Thank You, Captain Crozier

Sailors cheer Captain Brett Crozier aboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt (Reuters)

About the author: James Fallows is a contributing writer at The Atlantic, and author of the newsletter Breaking the News. He was chief White House speechwriter for President Jimmy Carter, and is a co-founder, with his wife, Deborah Fallows, of the Our Towns Civic Foundation.

Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

Two days ago I wrote about Captain Brett Crozier, who as commander of the USS Theodore Roosevelt urged his Navy superiors to let him take his ship into port, because the coronavirus was spreading rapidly among his 4000-plus crew members.

Two updates since that report: First, there is now additional video footage from the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, of how crew members cheered Captain Crozier when he left the ship after being “relieved of command.”

Second, I should have pointed out that Thomas Modly, the acting secretary of the Navy who dismissed Crozier, was in that role because his predecessor, Secretary of the Navy Richard Spencer, was forced out of that job when he resisted Donald Trump’s efforts on behalf of Edward Gallagher, the former Navy SEAL who was prosecuted for war crimes in a court martial. (The Trump administration is replete with “acting” officials, who can exercise some of the powers of their offices without going through Senate hearings or confirmation.)

Now, relevant reader response. First, from a reader with a family member aboard the Theodore Roosevelt:

My husband is currently serving on the Roosevelt. Many family members have been reaching out to their respective ombudsmans to ask for a way to get in contact or relay our support for Captain Crozier and we have been all been told the same thing—they “don't know”  how to get in touch with him.

We are not to speak to the media regarding anything going on with COVID-19. In fact, we have been getting “updates” (I use that term very loosely because ‘update' implies difference or a change in information, which is very much not the case) for weeks about the illness spreading throughout the ship and how we are NOT to discuss anything with the media. Which, given Operational Security requirements, is fair but also indicates leadership knew about the spread of the Coronavirus far earlier than what is being portrayed in the news.

Anyway, I have a simple ask: On behalf of the families of all on board the USS Roosevelt can SOMEONE just tell the man that we appreciate what he did to make sure our sailors and marines come back to us in one piece? Captain Crozier risked his career and did what he thought was best to get the resources they needed. The acting SEC NAV, who amounts to a little more than a modern day mercenary (you know, on account of forgoing his national service for profit in the private sector), railroaded CAPT Crozier and it’s an absolute disgrace.

We just want to say thanks and let him know we support him. It shouldn’t be this hard to get that simple message across.

Thanks for reading and please don’t publish my name or email address. We’ve seen how the Navy “doesn’t like to punish” people about stuff like this.


From another reader who has himself served in the military:

I am impressed by Capt Crozier’s action.

At first, I was so surprised by it. The more I think about it the more I realize that I may not be giving senior officers credit. Let me explain.

I used to be an Air Force officer, and got out as a junior officer 5 years ago. I was disillusioned, and so that colors me somewhat. But most senior officers I met were “careerists.” They weren't bad people, but they were focused on checking the necessary boxes to advance their career, more than anything else.

Especially in the military, where until you become a senior officer, you are little more than numbers on a paper, the personnel system does not have the resolution to advance officers based on how they serve their primary function—serving the troops under their command. And my (admittedly jaded) sense was that senior officers were not the type to stick their necks out.

So when I first saw what Captain Crozier did, I was shocked, and proud of him. And when I first heard the Navy's response, I shrugged - of course this is how they'd act...

Then I remembered—while careerists don't always stick out their necks, they are generally good people. They generally have the same visions and ideals as every other officer. They just have a different sense of when to push the line to make their commanders uncomfortable. And so nearly every officer I've met would undoubtedly do anything they can to save the lives of their troops.

I think most military members dream that such decisions happen in moments of action. Hardly any dream of making the right call by leaking a memorandum to the press. And yet Capt Crozier recognized his moment, and did the right thing.

So from this jaded veteran—kudos to Capt Crozier. And here's to recognizing that despite the way he's being treated by the Navy—he is a remarkable credit to that organization, because he is a product of that organization.


And, finally, from a long-time mariner:

What was the Secretary thinking? He must be out of his mind. Any ship Captain who is that concerned about his or her crew, which ultimately affects the ship’s mission should get the Navy Cross, not be fired.

Any CO that is willing to risk his or her career for the health of their crew is a hero in my book.

As a proud Navy officer for 30 years, and a Merchant ship Master of ships larger than the USS Theodore Roosevelt, I can tell you I was appalled that CAPT Crozier was fired…

This firing reminds me of the Chinese government’s reaction to the young Doctor in Wuhan who tried to warn his country and the world about the COVID-19 virus.

How is what was done here any different?