by Claire Russo, Democratic candidate for Congress in VA-05
Last week, Captain Brett Crozier, commander of the USS Theodore Roosevelt, sounded the alarm about his sailors’ and Marines’ lives being put at risk. As COVID-19 was spreading throughout the aircraft carrier, Captain Crozier pleaded with Navy officials for decisive action, which he felt had so far been ignored by his commanders. This may have broken the Navy chain of command, but Captain Crozier did what any great leader does in unprecedented times; he took a risk and put his own career on the line to save the lives of his troops. Instead of being heralded for his brave action, our leadership structure has closed ranks and removed him from command.
I know what it means to have the system fail you. 16 years ago, shortly after joining the Marines, I was sexually assaulted by a fellow Marine Officer. I reported the crime, I cooperated with the investigation, but the Marine Corps failed to prosecute. Instead of dealing with what was a rampant problem in the military at the time, they tried to shut me up. I fought to bring my attacker to justice, and I took a lot of risk in the face of the opposition from my command, in order to be certain that the man who attacked me never hurt another Marine. I refused to remain silent, and ultimately my rapist was convicted in civilian court. I’ve never run away from the fight and I took on not only the man who assaulted me, but the system that tried to vanish the problem.
Captain Crozier took an oath to defend our country against all enemies, foreign and domestic. In sending this letter, he upheld that oath. He was protecting his ship against the silent and deadly COVID-19 virus; he was doing what he needed to in order to save lives. When you watch the video of his sailors cheering for him and chanting his name as he walked off the ship after being removed from command, you see a leader who earned the respect of his sailors by doing the right thing, by risking his career for their lives.
Part of being a leader is standing up and speaking truth to power. Captain Crozier knew he was taking a risk when he sent that letter without the supervision of his command. Just as I knew I was taking a risk when I worked with civilian authorities without the consent of my command to prosecute the Marine who assaulted me. No leader will regret the consequence of a decision made in an attempt to do what is right, to uphold the oath of office and to protect the men and women to your left and right.
That’s one of the reasons I’m running for Congress, to take on the broken system that protects the powerful and make it work for the people who need it. And that’s why today I’m throwing my full support behind Captain Crozier by calling on all our elected officials to hold Navy leadership’s feet to the fire and demand that the very real issues raised by Captain Crozier are addressed to protect our servicemembers instead of trying to sweep it all under the rug. The men and women of the USS Theodore Roosevelt must get the help they need to address the COVID-19 outbreak on their ship, and Captain Crozier should be immediately reinstated.
Now, more than ever we need leaders willing to raise the alarm and I cannot sit quietly by as our system once again tries to silence those voices. I hope you’ll join me.