Military leadership, readiness, national security and armchair quarterbacking during a pandemic

There are a lot of outraged voices, from the mothers of Navy Sailors aboard the USS THEODORE ROOSEVELT, halls of the United States Congress, international and national news outlets, to crusty, retired officers and Chief Petty Officers regarding the Navy Department’s handling of (1) incidence of the Corona virus, COVID-19, sickening the ship’s crew, and (2) her skipper’s communications with senior leadership in the Pentagon. And the final outrage, was the Commanding Officer’s dismissal as commander of the TR at the direction of the Secretary of the Navy.

As the facts leading up to Captain Brett Crozier’s removal as the Commanding Officer become clearer, it appears that from the 3 crewmembers who were reported to the Navy Department to have symptoms of the corona virus on March 24th, as of Monday, March 30, that number had grown to one hundred Sailors. On Tuesday, April 1st, a letter from Captain Crozier, dated March 30, to the Navy Department was released by the San Francisco Chronicle detailing the emerging crisis. According to statements obtained after the Captain’s dismissal, during that same week in March, the Navy had been working to obtain medical beds and accommodations on Guam, for the Sailors who had not yet been exposed. One undisclosed spokesperson told the paper that the complexity of a nuclear-powered warship with weapons, billions of dollars of equipment aboard, and a specific mission priorities was not a matter of simply going pierside and offloading the crew.

According to an article published in Foreign Policy (foreignpolicy.com), the Captain had multiple conversations with the chief of staff to the acting Navy Secretary, Thomas Modly, just prior to his letter being leaked to the journal. According to the remarks of Acting Secretary Modly, loss of confidence in Captain Crozier’s leadership, primarily in releasing his communication with Navy senior leadership outside official Navy channels (unsecured email) was the primary motivation for his dismissal. At the time of Modly’s remarks to the Press, no implication had been made that Crozier himself emailed the San Francisco newspaper.

From his Navy biography, Captain Crozier has 28 years of experience as a Naval officer. He is a graduate of the Naval Academy, Naval Postgraduate School, Navy Nuclear Power School, as well as his role as a aviator. His roles indicate his competence and increasingly stature, from tours supporting Operation Iraqi Freedom, squadron commander, Executive Officer of the carrier Ronald Reagan and Commander of the USS Blue Ridge ( the Commander, Seventh Fleet flagship). From his pedigree and expertise, it does not seem that this man would be given to poor judgement or failure to command. Following the chain of command, for guidance is as much a part of military training for officers and enlisted personnel as is maintaining operational security (OPSEC). One of the tenets of military leadership is preventing potential adversaries observing a weakness or casualty of one of the means of a nation’s power projection. From the letter released by the Chronicle, the commanding officer’s opening remarks convey his human, if desperate concern for his crew.

For anyone who has watched the 1949 film, Twelve O’clock High, part of the curriculum for in a Navy leadeship seminar in the early 2000s, a failure of military leadership – was the rationale for an American bomber squadron commander being relieved. Fatigue, a lack of discipline, and over-protectiveness for his men were conveyed rather convincingly by the commander being relieved. The incoming commander portrayed by Gregory Peck, demanded military bearing, performance, and training standards that returned the unit effectiveness. (Note: while actor Jimmy Stewart actually flew bombers over Germany in WWII, Gregory Peck was medically exempted from service). Evidence from wartime, acts of terrorism, and peacetime accidents among all the military services tend to corroborate that a commanding officer cannot relax military discipline, rules barring familiarity, nor standards of professionalism because it may diminish effectiveness and bring harm to all members of a unit.

The Captain may have understood that the Navy, like large bureaucracies, takes a glacially -long time to respond to crises, and the exponential rate of infection aboard his ship needed swift action to preserve his crew’s health. The threat to the health of a military unit, from influenza, or a biological agent has been considered for years. A casual search online for training, policies and procedures related to the Department of Defense, military readiness, and contagious disease, found several official sources listed here.

Policies and procedures, if only considered as an academic exercise, when dealing with a global pandemic, may not be part of a tactical commander’s toolkit. Just as the rest of the country has begun experiencing the severity of the illness and the mitigation efforts of “social distancing”, aboard a Navy ship, it has long been known that an entire crew will put to sea – and any flu bug that some experience will work its way to everyone. With the nature of COVID-19, healthy Sailors might be dead within two weeks of exposure – and infect any number of shipmates before symptoms are evident.

As for the Captain’s options, it may have definitely been an error in judgement if his letter was not conveyed with the approval of his next senior in command, through official navy channels, or to include spouse or spouses unsecured (non-military) email addresses in a Navy unclassified email. However, it is certainly a lapse in judgement if purposely sent through unofficial channels and intended for senior leadership. While the message and not the medium is being highlighted by most non-military experts, Crozier’s options to expedite a response was equally damaging for him personally. While the Acting Navy Secretary may have provided a direct line for the Captain to communicate his concerns, going outside the Chain of Command, in bypassing the theater Air and Fleet Commanders, and the several seniors in command at the Pentagon, to directly communicate with the Secretary, would doom his naval career anyway.

It is unreasonable for civilians, young sailors, spouses, academics and politicians to demand as to what the Navy should or should not do regarding decisions, leadership roles, policy and procedures, or fitness for Command. Politics and public opinion should have little bearing on how the military operates. But veterans know that politics have had a great deal of influence on how the military conducts America’s foreign policy. With a pandemic threatening our global readiness, none of us ‘armchair quarterbacks’ can reliably comment how a commander should have responded. It was for superior conduct, making difficult decisions and carrying out the orders of the President and his senior commanders, that a warship commander is rigorously trained and selected. -ES

Ask the Chief: we follow orders

“.we follow orders..Or people die”

A Few Good Men, (1992) movie, line uttered by Colonel Jessup (Jack Nicholson)

As a retired Navy Senior Chief, I spent 26 years following orders of those seniors-in-command, whether directly from Commanding Officers as their unit Senior Enlisted Leader, or indirectly, while carrying out my assigned duties, watches, or maintenance tasks during my career. As a civilian, I am trying to follow our State officials, medical experts, and emergency First Responders who have been asking the public to minimize their comings and goings. While the military has both non-judicial punishment and legal proceedings to enforce “social distancing”, in the civilian world, the public is “strongly suggested” to follow State Emergency guidelines for public safety. Some will always decide they know more than public safety officials. As we have seen during hurricanes, people who refuse to evacuate the path of the storm are frequently requiring rescue or hospitalization when disaster strikes.

Tonight, as I contemplate that the Governor of California has issued a Statewide mandate to limit public contact by restricting gatherings and use of public venues even further than two weeks ago, I think how an old veteran can be a model for others. It is the eleventh hour, and our political representatives have finally stopped fighting among themselves, and are seeking to do what is best for our citizens. Given the example of places like Italy which has been overwhelmed by the number of critically ill, we have only days till the numbers of the ill exponentially exceed our response. This thought about the eleventh hour, reminded me of the orders I learned in bootcamp forty years ago:

Eleven General Orders of a sentry

  1. To take charge of this post and all government property in view.
  2. To walk my post in a military manner, keeping always on the alert, and observing everything that takes place within sight or hearing.
  3. To report all violations of orders I am instructed to enforce.
  4. To repeat all calls from posts more distant from the guard house than my own.
  5. To quit my post only when properly relieved.
  6. To receive, obey and pass on to the sentry who relieves me, all orders from the Commanding Officer, Command Duty Officer, Officer of the Deck, and Officers and Petty Officers of the Watch only.
  7. To talk to no one except in the line of duty.
  8. To give the alarm in case of fire or disorder.
  9. To call the Officer of the Deck in any case not covered by instructions.
  10. To salute all officers and all colors and standards not cased.
  11. To be especially watchful at night, and, during the time for challenging, to challenge all persons on or near my post and to allow no one to pass without proper authority.

I have not practiced military drills in the ten years since retirement. I might leave the heavy lifting to younger service members. But I am observant as to what has been lacking in the years, months and recent weeks leading up to the coronavirus response within the United States. Clear direction, unified communications, and orderly process. Precision and calm, measured response to emergencies requires frequent practice. That is what our shipboard drills honed into us, Collisions at sea and terrorist attacks are not the time to practice. In the eleventh hour, the nation needs to heed the “best practices” to minimizing the casualties from this pandemic.

the Space Force, or when science fiction expands

Many I know are outraged or at least mock the new United States military branch, the Space Force. But hang on a minute. Nobody even knows what the charter of this new branch is, or who and what capabilities the “force” will require. But once humans venturing into space number in the several hundred and then thousands, some military discipline may be needed.

While humans have been going into space for sixty years, it has primarily been the United States or the Russians. The International Space Station is still primarily a venture between several nations. And recently the Chinese indicated they will venture to the Moon. It has only been in the last ten years or so, that commercial exploration and development of space has been moving from science fiction into something people now living will see. (If we do not kill ourselves from a pandemic first.)

In popular culture, for more than forty years, various incarnations of a futurist “space force”, Star Trek, and blockbuster movies about space forces – rebels versus a militarist empire (Star Wars) – have captured the world’s imagination. If you have heard or become a fan of the television series, The Expanse, now filming its 5th season, you should be at least curious how life is imitating art. Without giving plot twists and turns away for those who have not seen this series, the premise of this show begins with an alien technology discovered and then manipulated by corrupt industrialists, politicians and military leaders. As the different plots are developed, it is apparent that the future is a lot like our present.

Forgetting for a moment about alien technology, impending death, romance, betrayal, and deceit, what has motivated me to support the real-life introduction of a “Space Force” is a historical perspective. When mankind set off in sailing vessels, like the Minoans in the Mediterranean five to six thousand years ago, or the Polynesians who ventured across the Pacific to the Hawaiian Islands a thousand years ago, or to South America as some suggest, in each society, military forces developed. When the Greeks, Ottomans, Spanish, French, and British, started venturing in search of trade, territorial expansion, and so forth, fishermen and merchants were not the sole adventurers. Military forces were also there, to protect the culture’s interests.

While people may still mock the introduction of a Space Force, the militarization of space has been unavoidable. This has been a logical step since science fiction first dreamed about living on other worlds. With human motivations ranging from curiosity to power lust, an altruistic policing of space is fantasy. Missile-launched nuclear weapons are in numerous arsenals. And once someone – a terrorist, a corrupt politician, or a loose alliance of rogue “Belters” have achieved an advantage in space, who will have the resources – and the quick-response positioning to protect individual, scientific or commercial enterprise?

“Trust but verify”

“Whoever is careless with the truth in small matters cannot be trusted with important matters.”

Albert Einstein, via quoteambition.com

After forty years employment, in the U.S. Navy and in industry, working with information and equipment that preserve the national security interests of the United States, I know a little something about “trust”. The selection of those who will be entrusted with protecting our nation is, and should be, as a result of a thorough investigation of personal history and sober assessment of individual character.

Investigating the “whole person”

To evaluate eligibility for positions of trust, the government uses a “whole person concept”. Revised in 2015, the Federal Government’s National Investigative Standards implemented a multi-tiered system of checks. These indicate the criteria a candidate will be evaluated prior to granting access to specific levels of “public trust”. Criteria are laid out in guidelines published in the (2017) “Adjudicative Guidelines for Determining Eligibility for Access to Classified Information“. These guidelines, evaluate an individual in several areas including creditworthiness, alcohol or drug use, psychological fitness, or any past criminal conduct. And any past or ongoing foreign contacts. Factors such as nature and extent of the conduct, its frequency, if a candidate completed rehabilitation, may restrict the level, or exclude a person from obtaining access to information that is in the national security interest of the United States.

Sensitive or Classified information

Some employees will have access to sensitive but unclassified information like that on many computer networks used by government employees and contractors. In industry, much of this is proprietary internal company information. On Federal Government contracts, documents containing unclassified, but sensitive information bear “For Official Use Only” markings, abbreviated “FOUO”. For this level of access, a candidate’s creditworthiness or spending habits are not reviewed as part of the overall process. This level of investigative review is called the National Agency Check with Inquiries (NACI). However, for those whose duties will require granting of a federal government security clearance, the National Agency Check with Local Agency and Credit Checks (NACLC) is initiated. This reviews seven years of a person’s prior residences, work history, and creditworthiness. The Law Checks portion reviews any criminal or civil actions over the immediately prior five year period recorded in law enforcement or other public databases. This involves checks of a person’s fingerprints in local, state or national law enforcement archives. Investigators look closely at the issues, corrective or rehabilitative measures, and make judgement on the likelihood for further recurrence of those issues.

An SSBI is for personnel requiring a Top Secret or special access Government clearances

A more thorough investigation is the Single Scope Background Investigation (SSBI) which is the process by which a candidate is authorized access to TOP SECRET classification information and special access programs such as Secure Compartmented Information (SCI)). Formerly, the investigation began with a candidate completing a Standard Form-86 (SF-86), that lists a person’s residence, activities, education, travel, work history, personal contacts and references for the past ten years or to age 18, whichever is earlier. If the candidate has a co-habitant, his or her information is gathered and is as thoroughly investigated also. All listed information will be corroborated. Further, the SSBI will have personal interviews with the candidate’s neighbors, employers, coworkers, friends, as well as by telephone. For the last dozen years or so, an online form, e-QUIP, has replaced the SF-86 paper form. All of these clearances are of a finite term with a periodic re-investigation for continued access. And all cleared individuals acknowledge they are to never divulge what was entrusted to them without obtaining permission from the original Government agency which classified such information.

human beings are flawed

The reasons are obvious why the Government takes stringent measures (the glaring failures by certain politicians and bureaucrats notwithstanding) to protect national security information. One of the creeds that we had made into an sew- on patch in my early Navy career was “In God we trust; all others we monitor.” The reality is that all human beings have flaws. Some of these flaws, under certain conditions, can turn a trusted person into a liability. People commit espionage, bribery, careless or deliberate mishandling of information and equipment. An adversary of the United States can manipulate a targeted individual’s illegal or improper behavior, debts, sexual relationships, or other potentially embarrassing personal life, to make a host of bad decisions.

The news reports incidents where sensitive or classified information is conveyed to a private server of a government official. A contractor or military member steals information from a classified network and releases it on a public forum, which damages national security and reveals methods of collection or sources to adversaries as well as critics. Of course, not everyone reported in the twenty-four hour news cycle violates the national security interests of the United States. Congressmen embezzling campaign funds; sexual impropriety between senior managers and their subordinates; government officials, military members and DOD contractors who take bribes to steer lucrative contracts to domestic and foreign suppliers may not have compromised national security but have demonstrated the character failures that compromise public trust.

When Your Doctor Joins a New Practice – Consumer Reports

For most people, including fellow military retirees, veterans and their families, healthcare is second only to our income, in importance. While this blog has offered insight into military retirement (pay) issues, there are questions a beneficiary or family member may have about healthcare. The Reserve or Guard member, and family may be covered by one plan, if still serving in the military, another once that member reaches “gray-area retiree” status, and a third option once the member reaches 60 years of age. And then, at full retirement (Social Security/ Medicare-eligible) age, yet another healthcare transition occurs. For many who are employed after military service, they likely have a private -or public (government) employer offering a subsidized healthcare option. Often the most straightforward approach is to visit a website, which may then require a call to the physician’s office, which may be directed to the health group switchboard, and then to a department versed in many questions a beneficiary might have. At times, that approach may not be satisfactorily answered, so second website visit (https://tricare.mil), which may then lead to a call to the Tricare manager, which for West Coast residents is https//www.tricare-west.com (Humana Federal services) .

With all the changes nationally to healthcare in the last dozen years, it is prudent to be aware of how your healthcare may change. What, if anything, may interrupt your health maintenance, prescriptions, treatments or attending physicians when your doctor joins a new practice? This is my first question of the year, as my “primary care manager” went from private practice, to a new group practice. Read here about questions you should have for your physician and insurer, and be prepared for any, or more likely inevitable, interruption in your care plan.

The information in the linked post, was published by Orly Avitzur, M.D., in the February 10, 2017 online Consumer Reports

A new year and re-commitment time

The First of January is a great time to assess my contributions to a blog devoted to things of interest to veterans and their families. I want to publish more sea-stories; however, to be a resource for military families and veterans I need, or rather, I must provide better content in 2020.

patience only goes so far when a veteran wants what was earned

For many veterans, myself counted among them, hold a cynical attitude of the amount of support that the State and Federal Government actively provides to veterans. Some of that is deserved due to standards of individual personnel hired to serve the veteran population, volume of work relying on undermanned office staff, and incompetence. However, the remedy for delays and ineffective support to veterans – customers and taxpayers – is an informed – and resolute veteran seeking redress. In my own situation, five months in determined pursuit of Navy retirement pay once eligible to receive it (a full year after initially applying) resulted in receiving up to date payment. This took letters to elected representatives, waiting hours on hold to speak to pay clerks, making visits to offices, and bringing in social media attention. The “squeaky wheel”, or irritable retired Senior Chief, gets the grease.

some benefits you may not know

Some of the benefits that veterans have now:

Perks offered by public companies

Some of this information comes via Military Times and Military OneSource, with links to the originating Government agency or other. -ed.