The Crozier “Memo”: An Analysis
BLUF: There are effective ways of “speaking truth to power” – there has to be, and one is suggested in this article – but this was not one of them.
There has been much commentary on the decision of Acting Secretary of the Navy Thomas Modly to fire Captain Brett Crozier, Commanding Officer (CO) of USS THEODORE ROOSEVELT, over the memo he wrote concerning COVID-19 onboard his ship and the manner in which he sent the memo. There has been very little if any, commentary on the memo itself.[i] The purpose of this article is to fill that void.
The first observation is that Captain Crozier chose to use a memorandum to communicate his request and send it via an unclassified e-mail system.[ii] In accordance with the Department of the Navy Correspondence Manual, memorandums are only to be used to “…correspond within an activity or between DON activities. Subordinates may use it to correspond directly with each other on routine official business.”[iii] This may seem like a trivial point, but the purpose of good correspondence practices is to communicate clearly, effectively and appropriately. When submitting what is sure to be considered a controversial document to a higher authority, it is advisable to use the appropriate correspondence mechanism for doing so. In addition, Captain Crozier did not use any of the approved formats for a Navy memorandum. Doing so might have helped structure his arguments and request for assistance more effectively.
The second observation is that Captain Crozier chose to use a “Bottom Line Up Front” (BLUF) statement. The “BLUF” statement is derived from the practice of creating “Executive Summaries” in longer documents, such as lengthy reports, but it is not a defined mechanism in the Correspondence Manual. The Air Force does address the use of the “BLUF” statement, in the context of informal e-mail communications, but even then suggests using it within the construct of the staff summary sheet (SSS) organization (i.e., PURPOSE, BACKGROUND, DISCUSSION, VIEWS OF OTHERS, and RECOMMENDATIONS (or in this case, RESQUESTS)).[iv] At the very least, it is advisable that a BLUF statement be followed by a DISCUSSION section, to lay out the issues, and a RECOMMENDATION (or in this case, REQUEST) section to serve as an actionable conclusion. In any event, the idea of the BLUF is to present the “bottom line” of the document. Since the title of the document is “Request for Assistance in Response to COVID-19 Pandemic”, the reader would rightly expect to see something about a request for assistance in the BLUF statement.
It is, therefore, worth quoting Captain Crozier’s BLUF statement in its entirety:
"If required, the USS THEODORE ROOSEVELT would embark all assigned Sailors, set sail, and be ready to fight and defeat and adversary that dares challenge the U.S. or our allies. The virus would certainly have an impact, but in combat, we are willing to take certain risks that are not acceptable in peacetime. However, we are not at war, and therefore cannot allow a single Sailor to perish as a result of this pandemic unnecessarily. Decisive action is required now in order to comply with CDC and NAVADMIN 083/20 guidance and prevent tragic outcomes."
The first two sentences are perfectly fine, if superfluous to the intent of the document: they reflect what the Navy expects of the USS THEODORE ROOSEVELT and what the nation expects of the Navy, but they don’t mention anything about a request for assistance, and they aren’t addressed within the body of the memorandum. The third sentence is, at best, irrelevant. First, it has nothing to do with a request for assistance. Second, it is simply a statement of the obvious, and one that no one is likely to disagree with. BLUFs are supposed to represent the "bottom line" of the document, which according to the title, is a request for assistance, and so far, there has been no mention of a request for assistance. The next and last sentence also fails to request any assistance. It is a statement of what is required ("decisive action") but doesn't say who is required to take action, only that some undefined action must comply with certain requirements. Finally, the BLUF statement is too long. Note that the BLUF statement for this article is one sentence. In short, the BLUF statement fails to accomplish anything a BLUF statement is supposed to do, and it takes too long to do it.
The body of the memorandum is organized in seven sections: Problem Statement, Inappropriate Focus on Testing, Inappropriate Quarantine and Isolation, Ineffectiveness of Current Strategy, Lessons Learned from the Diamond Princess, Proposed New Strategy, and Conclusion. Taken in turn:
Problem Statement. Brief as it is, this is probably the most effective paragraph in the entire document. In it he states the basic problem and outlines the requirements for an effective solution. What he does not do, presumably because it is not a problem, is state was has or has not been done toward providing an effective solution, and he does not expand on his implication, made in the BLUF, that decisive action has not yet been taken.
Inappropriate Focus on Testing. The basic idea of this section is that all crew members, because of the physical closeness imposed by the shipboard environment of THEODORE ROOSEVELT, need to be quarantined and isolated in accordance with existing guidance, and that testing does not serve any purpose in achieving that task. The first observation is that it took Captain Crozier three paragraphs to say that in his memorandum, while it took one sentence to say it in this article. The Correspondence Manual stresses “compact writing” as being an exemplary quality in effective communication; in fact, it devotes an entire section of the Manual to the topic.[v] The second and more important observation is that this section does not contain a specific request for assistance, although it possibly lays the groundwork for two: quarantine the crew (although the groundwork for this possible request was already laid in the first section), and stop testing prior to quarantining.
Inappropriate Quarantine and Isolation. This section opens with the renewed argument that it is not possible to effectively quarantine and isolate personnel onboard THEODORE ROOSEVELT because of the nature of the shipboard environment. Certainly, Captain Crozier knows that his audience – U.S. Navy officers more senior them himself, who have all served onboard warships – do not need convincing on this point. Worse, he has already made this point. The remainder of the section goes on to detail why the THEODORE ROOSEVELT and some of the existing quarantine locations are inappropriate. Organizationally, it is not clear why this point wasn’t made in the “Problem Statement” section. Finally, this section does not contain a request for assistance.
Ineffectiveness of Current Strategy. The basic point of this section, consisting of a single paragraph, is that given the lack of availability of off-ship quarantine sites, we are doing our best to protect Sailors onboard THEODORE ROOSEVELT, but it will not be effective in stopping the spread of the virus. Again, what was said in a paragraph could be said in a sentence. Logically this point belongs in the Problem Statement section. Again, this section does not contain a request for assistance.
Lessons Learned from the Diamond Princess. The point of this section is that shipboard environments are not conducive to effective quarantining. The point has already been made to a readership that did not need the point made in the first place; making it again is not likely to help the author’s argument. Furthermore, this section does not contain a request for assistance.
Proposed New Strategy. Captain Crozier uses this section to define the goal for his ship: free of the virus, with no unnecessary deaths among his crew, and ready to “regain and maximize warfighting readiness.” Again, the author uses an entire section to express what could be said in a sentence; and again, there is no request for assistance.
Conclusion. Normally conclusions summarize what is in the document and, given the title of the memorandum, would be expected to include a request for assistance. Rather than provide a summary of the document, this conclusion introduces an entirely new idea (i.e., that a percentage of the crew will have to remain onboard).[vi] After summarizing some of the ideas expressed in the BLUF, the conclusion then turns to the first and only request contained in the document:
“Request all available resources to find NAVADMIN and CDC compliant quarantine rooms for my entire crew as soon as possible.”
Some observations about this request:
- The request does not specify who should provide these resources. Presumably, the request is being made of whomever he sent the memorandum to, but since he did not choose to use an approved correspondence format that would necessarily include the recipient(s), there is no way to know from reading this document, who he is requesting assistance from.[vii]
- The request implies that not all available resources are being utilized. That case was never made in the document itself, and the implication is highly accusatory.
- A minor point, but quarantine rooms for his “entire crew” are not required, a point he made a few sentences earlier. The effect is to weaken an already poorly worded request.
There is no doubt that Captain Crozier felt deeply about the welfare of his crew, and that he was willing to go to great lengths to assure their well-being. Assuming he had exhausted all normal methods for getting the help he needed (working with his immediate superior to communicate his needs up the chain of command, working with the various shore support organizations trying to assist him, etc., evidence for which he did not include in his memorandum), and assuming he still felt the need to take some extraordinary step to communicate his needs more forcefully, what might he have done? In addition to continuing to follow operational reporting (OPREP) procedures via the naval messaging system to communicate his desires, he could have followed Secretary of the Navy guidance contained in the Department of the Navy Correspondence Manual. The following procedures would have at least eliminated some of the more damning accusations that got him relieved of command and would have helped him organize his request more effectively:
- Use the proper format for formally communicating with superiors in the chain of command. In accordance with the Correspondence Manual, the proper format would have been the standard letter.[viii] Whomever he wanted assistance from would be contained in the "To:" line and the intervening chain of command would be identified in the "Via:" line(s). Optionally, he could have multiple "To:" addressees if he wanted assistance from multiple organizations, and he could have "Copy to:" addressees if he wanted various support organizations to know what he was requesting. Recommended points and organization of such a letter, based on the SSS example above, might be:
- Purpose: to request additional resources necessary to provide for the crew.
- Background: when COVID-19 was discovered onboard, how many crewmembers have tested positive to date, what efforts have been made to provide for the crew’s welfare, and by whom.
- Despite the herculean efforts of many organizations and individuals, the crew of USS THEODORE ROOSEVELT requires additional assistance in successfully defeating COVID-19
- Some crew has already been transferred ashore, but the existing available facilities are not able to provide effective quarantining and isolation
- Effective quarters in accordance with existing guidance would consist of individual quarters with separate head facilities
- Views of Others: <record any views that differ from or support the author’s own>
- Request: additional efforts to obtain adequate facilities, such as:
- Hotel rooms
- NGIS/Navy Lodge rooms
- Mobile homes/campers
- Airbnb Apartments/Houses
- Any additional assistance not specified above would be greatly appreciated
- Route the formal letter appropriately. Obviously, time was of the essence, so the use of e-mail to deliver the letter would be appropriate. This process is expressly addressed in the Correspondence Manual.[ix] He could have forwarded the letter to his immediate superior with a request for his superior to forward it up the chain of command with his superior’s endorsement statement.[x] That would provide his immediate superior, again in accordance with the Correspondence Manual, the opportunity to either address his concerns at their level or forward it to the next level in the chain of command with whatever comments they might want to make.
Two final points. No one knows the stress Captain Crozier was under as he dealt with a new and challenging circumstance that no one in the Navy had yet dealt with. One can only comment on what he wrote and what he did. What he did is less well documented than what he wrote, and this analysis has tried to focus on what he wrote. The second point is that a reader of this article might justifiably criticize the focus on writing style, organization and format. However, effective writing should achieve the desired results without contributing to the author being relieved of his command. While many will express opinions on the subject, the fact is that no one will ever objectively know whether Captain Crozier achieved anything for his crew in writing this memorandum other than THEODORE ROOSEVELT getting a new commanding officer. There are a number of ways to effectively speak truth to power – there has to be.
Captain Anthony Cowden, USN, is a Surface Warfare Officer. The views expressed in this article are his alone and do not reflect those of the Department of the Navy or the Department of Defense.
[ii] Presumably, CAPT Crozier used the military’s operational reporting (OPREP) procedures via the (classified) naval messaging system to provide initial and update reports to the entire chain of command, in this case, all the way to the Secretary of the Navy. Why he chose to abandon that method and send the memorandum the way he did is unknown. To borrow from Donald Rumsfeld, one comments on what one knows, not what one does not know…
[iv] The Tongue and Quill, Air Force Handbook (AFH) 33-337, Certified Current 27 July 2016, p. 137 (https://static.e-publishing.af.mil/production/1/saf_cio_a6/publication/afh33-337/afh33-337.pdf)
[v] https://www.jag.navy.mil/distrib/instructions/SECNAVINST5216.5NavyCorrespondenceManual.pdf, Section D, Compact Writing
[vi] Introducing new ideas in a conclusion is a cardinal sin in academic writing and not a good idea in naval memorandums.
[vii] Of course, if the reader had the e-mail, he used to transmit this memorandum, the "To:" line, in accordance with the Correspondence Manual, would indicate who the request was to – but the statement stands: within this document, there is no way to know who he is requesting assistance from.
[viii] https://www.jag.navy.mil/distrib/instructions/SECNAVINST5216.5NavyCorrespondenceManual.pdf, Chapter Two: Correspondence Formats, Section A: Standard Letter