Navy Capt. Brett Crozier’s story is yet another grave, toxic example of service members’ escalating mistrust of their leadership. This pattern of mistrust has been growing at an increasing pace for the past several years.
On April 3, 2020, the Navy blamed Capt. Crozier and relieved him of his command of the carrier Theodore Roosevelt after his plea for help to keep his crew safe from the COVID-19 went public.
The Department of Defense’s senior leaders, yet again, showed that they have two main objectives in any crisis: protect the brand and protect themselves. In Capt. Crozier’s case, it was to protect the Navy’s image and to shift blame to the hero, Capt. Crozier, who refused to allow his sailors to continue to knowingly be placed in harm’s way from an internal threat.
A further example of this appalling total lack of confidence in the chain of command can be seen in the response to the poor conditions in privatized housing on military bases. Military spouses — finally fed up with having followed the “proper channels of command” — decided they had to go to Congress to force the military leadership to finally hear their complaints and take action to both correct well-known and unacceptably dangerous problems and also to punish vendors who knowingly had been lying to the military and its service members and cheating the government out of public monies.
Now, back to Capt. Crozier. The fact is someone, or some group, had no trust in the Navy’s current chain of command to respond in a timely manner while sailors lives were at increasing risk. The acting Secretary of the Navy shot the messenger. Whether Capt. Crozier’s letter was sent to the media by him or by someone else is irrelevant. It is not a security breach, it is a trust breach. Very different.
So, the pertinent question is: Did the captain choose this course of action because he found that he didn’t trust his chain of command to take action?
Just two years ago, 200 single soldiers who lived in the barracks on a large U.S. Army installation told us they would not report sexual misconduct if they witnessed it happening because they had no confidence that the chain of command would do anything.
In another example, during a question-and-answer session following a presentation on sexual assault and harassment prevention, a sergeant first class in the audience stood up and said, “Sir, I’ll tell you one thing — if a young woman comes to me and reports she had been raped, I’m taking her downtown (to a civilian hospital) because I don’t trust my chain of command."
This pattern of lack of trust for the chain of command is not new, but it is becoming corrosively more obvious. Even five years ago, three non-commissioned Army officers asked for my help. They said they knew I talked to people in high places and wanted me to pass on that the perception in the ranks is that when it comes to sexual assault, higher ranking perpetrators get off while lower ranking perpetrators get hammered (defined as sent to jail). They didn’t trust the chain of command. I went to the Pentagon and relayed this message. I was blown off by a high-ranking Army general.
I know, and rightly so, all of our attention is devoted to the COVID-19 pandemic. But when it comes to national security, the biggest threat is lack of trust in senior military leadership by America’s sons and daughters entrusted to their care.
Robert D. Shadley is a retired Army major general and author of “The GAMe: Unraveling a Military Sex Scandal”. Camilla Vance Shadley, is a survivor of indecent assault by her late husband’s military supervisor. She is also the daughter of former Secretary of State Cyrus Vance, who also served as the deputy secretary of defense and the secretary of the Army.