The case of Captain Brett Crozier- my take

For several years, I constructed case studies for analysis in the military when I was an Internal OD consultant in the Israeli army. The case of Captain Crozier caught my eye, and I have tried to read everything I can about the goings-on, which have led both to the axing of Captain Crozier and the resignation of the acting secretary of the Navy.

The case of Brett Crozier, captain of the aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt was axed for bypassing the chain of command by unduly escalating the outbreak of corona on his vessel. The escalation (via email) reached the press and the shit hit the fan.

Did Crozier do the right thing? Should he be reinstated? Is he a bum? Is he a victim? Is it legitimate that the chain of command be bypassed by using the press, albeit inadvertently?

Here is my cut.

Leadership in the army focuses on getting the job done by following a set of predefined protocols and processes which have been worked out over centuries of warfare.

Military leadership is probably more people focused than any civilian outfit that I know, albeit that armies send soldiers to their death. There is no reason to believe that anyone above Crozier wanted to see the ship become a vessel of death. So it’s not a story of a whistleblower in a cruel and malicious organization who exposes the firms’ evil.

The issue is somewhere else. There is a built in paradox between getting the job done and following a set of predefined protocols and processes. This paradox needs to be constantly managed and re calibrated, because reality (getting the job done) and predefined protocols often clash, because war is full of “unexpecteds”, and many of the plans, processes and protocols have holes in them as the enemy surprises us.

But is Corona a war? It is a very different kind of war. Not the type we were brought up to fight, but a war nonetheless. And a very dangerous one if we don’t have the insight to act as if it is a war. After all, war is not mainly what we plan, but violence that happens.

Military machines and armies have horrendous bureaucracies, because most of the time, they maintain the peace, and just train for war, not wage war. Responsiveness of these bureaucracies is faulty, because the higher up you go, the more people are invested in the status quo. A huge amount of investment at the senior level is made at looking good, not being good.

This having been said, there is no place whatsoever for populism in the making of military decisions. Military decisions cannot be made by voting by smartphone. There is no doubt about that.

So, it’s a matter of balancing the paradox between getting the job done and adhering to the chain of command. There is no text book answer. It is risk management and balancing trade-offs between conflicting priorities. That’s why commanders exist.

So hail to Captain Crozier, an American hero. I salute you.

Afterthought

In the Israeli military, there is an expression “tsalash-tarash -“צל”ש-טר”ש“, which can roughly be translated as “Either a medal of honour or demotion to First Private”.

The expression is used to describe an action involving great risk  which is taken that is judged  only by the result. When the result is success, results trump adherence. This promotes risk taking, a must for the success of military leadership.

 

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