Secretary Modly’s visit to the Theodore Roosevelt (the “TR”) reflected a complete lack of leadership. According to the transcript, the Secretary essentially fussed at the crew for supporting Capt. Crozier. He told them to take care of one another and not to complain. See transcript here. Consider how public media came to possess a recording of his talk to the crew within hours. Someone on the crew cared enough to record the talk. Someone else then had to know enough about the media to connect with a reporter. Someone cared enough to contact media within hours of the visit. This should not shock anyone, but most folks in the military are not friendly to the media. But, in this instance, the crew was upset.
We get indications about why they were upset and why they gave Capt. Crozier the send-off of a lifetime. Vice Adm. Merz visited the crew the day after Secy. Modler’s visit. He spent some 1.5 hours with the crew at one meeting. He does not say it, but I am sure he likely spent much more time than that visiting with ship leadership. See a report about his visit here. Adm. Merz says the crew was scared about the virus. It did not believe the chain of command was addressing their concern. In any military unit, perhaps the greatest fear is that there will be some danger looming on the horizon, but the leadership appears disinterested.
In the military, it is not enough to address concerns. The leadership must also convey to the subordinate unit what it is doing. The chain of command failed the crew of the TR. If it was looking for ways to give them the medical support they needed, the upper levels of command failed to communicate that to the crew.
Re-watching episodes of “Band of Brothers,” I am reminded of a very high priority for every military leader: keep the crew or unit focused. Easy Company had an empty suit commander. 1LT Dyke was totally ineffective. He was absent most of the time, off on “walks.” In such a situation, it would have been easy for the soldiers to poke fun at their commander. If the NCO’s would mock the commander, that would surely infect the younger soldiers. The line that separates an effective, cohesive force and a mob is thin. So, the First Sergeant, the highest ranking NCO, asked the other NCO’s to keep their comments about 1LT Dyke quiet. They did. So, a situation that could have caused panic was averted.
Secy. Modly’s visit to the TR lasted all of 30 minutes. It is hard to believe someone in upper leadership would travel all that way and not speak to the crew one-on-one. It is unbelievable he would go all that way without affording them a chance to talk to him. Instead, he spoke to them about 15 minutes over the ship intercom and then left. Contrary to what you see in movies, in real life, we do not direct the U.S. military from the top down – rarely anyway. Yes, commanders do issue orders and guidance. But, that guidance is always based on critical information from the bottom. The U.S. military is as much bottom driven as it is top-driven. That two way communication is critical.
Worse, Secy. Modly in telling the crew they should stop complaining, that they need not love their commander, and that their captain was “stupid” in risking his career to seek better medical support, would have caused panic. You can hear one sailor exclaim on the recording, “What the f—?” They were upset at this criticism about their commander. Adm. Merz in coming the very next day exactly the right thing. The crew needed to know leadership cared about their safety. It just takes time. Time is communication.