War at Sea?

  • by LtCol Tim Wilson
  • 04-01-2020

Duty Calls USS Theodore Roosevelt


Captain Brett Crozier, commander of USS Theodore Roosevelt, has reportedly written a letter “pleading” with the Navy to approve an evacuation of up to 90% of his ships crew into “individualized lodging” due to an outbreak of Covid-19. The aircraft carrier docked in Guam last week after nearly two dozen sailors tested positive for the virus.

This story was broken in the San Francisco Chronicle which said “The unusual plea from Capt. Brett Crozier, a Santa Rosa native, came in a letter obtained exclusively by The Chronicle and confirmed by a senior officer on board the aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt, …”  (The Chronicle also published a copy of the letter.)

The Captain also wrote: “Removing the majority of personnel from a deployed U.S. nuclear aircraft carrier and isolating them for two weeks may seem like an extraordinary measure. ... This is a necessary risk, … Keeping over 4,000 young men and women on board the TR is an unnecessary risk and breaks faith with those Sailors entrusted to our care.”

In his conclusion, Capt. Crozier included the following “We are not at war. Sailors do not need to die.”

The Captain’s wording is incorrect, and so, arguably, is his argument. Sailors and soldiers don’t need to die in war, after all their death doesn’t produce any benefit to our country. Soldiers and sailors need to perform their duties in war. If that results in a net benefit to the nation, even with their death, that is a terribly unfortunate reality of war. It is only when their actions - the consequences of which include their death - do not benefit the nation as a whole that their deaths were in vain. 

So, to be more correct, Sailors and Soldiers need to perform their duties.

Further, several prominent Americans, to include the historian Victor Davis Hanson, have not only couched the necessary actions we must take to defeat the virus in terms of fighting a war, Hanson says that we are at war, and that COVID-19 is the enemy.

And so, Captain Crozier is wrong. He has lost sight of his principle mission: the defense of the United States. His duty, as commander of a capital ship, is risk assessment and strategic thinking, and he has failed to recognize the current deadly threat to the United States: the Coronavirus epidemic.

Which takes us back to his ship and his crew. The crew of USS Theodore Roosevelt consists of thousands of fit, young and healthy volunteers serving their nation. At an average age of around 23 years they are amongst the least at risk of severe illness, and they could serve a strategically vital service by remaining on board (except, of course, any who become seriously ill could be evacuated to shore medical facilities).

They represent an opportunity to gather intelligence on this enemy more detailed, more pristine, than any we have yet acquired.

By sending a team from USAMRIID (the United States Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases) on board, perhaps with some additional medical staff, the aircraft carrier offers the perfect medium for a truly controlled investigation into many details of the virus. Blood samples could be taken from the entire crew on a regular and frequent basis for the duration of the outbreak. Prophylactics could be tried in controlled groups, as could differing hygiene protocols. The variances of response to the disease based on factors such as blood types, incubation periods, genetic backgrounds  and many other factors would be clearly tied to each sample. Different treatment protocols could also be tested. Even the effectiveness of MOP gear could be examined. All these possibilities and more in a controlled environment. The results would produce information vital to the national interest.

At a time when the nation is at war, is it too big a sacrifice to ask of our service personnel that they take part in such a large scale, possibly vital experiment? If properly lead, if the situation were properly explained, if the opportunity presented were properly described, one has to suspect that the vast majority of the crew of USS Theodore Roosevelt would recognize this as an opportunity to perform their duties in direct support the national interest and would volunteer to help and support the nation in collecting this invaluable data.

Pete O’Brien is a Senior Fellow at the London Center for Policy Research, a retired Naval Officer and a successful business owner.

Tim Wilson is a Senior Fellow at the London Center for Policy Research, a retired British Army Officer and a proud American citizen.