James Puz: Savings lives should be mission one

James Puz: Savings lives should be mission one

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On June 19, the U.S. Navy announced that Captain Brett Crozier would not be reinstated as commander of the nuclear aircraft carrier U.S.S. Theodore Roosevelt.

If you recall, the captain was fired on April 2 by then-acting Secretary of the Navy, Thomas Modly (a Navy man) because of a letter Crozier had sent to his superiors and other naval officers criticizing how the Navy was handling the COVID-19 infection on his ship, with nearly 5,000 men and women on board.

The secretary used the words “betrayal,” “naive” and “stupid” regarding Captain Crozier’s actions. It should be noted that Modly apologized for his choice of words and resigned April 7.

It should also be noted that some people can be callous, unthinking, very foolish and just plain stupid, especially when it comes to members of the current Washington bureaucracy.

However, based on U.S. Navy history, Captain Crozier might be in very good company.

During the Battle of the Philippine Sea (June 1944), Admiral Marc Mitscher, while commanding Task Force 58, had a difficult decision to make.

A follow-up strike to an attack earlier in the day required the men and planes to return in the dark, making it impossible for any of the planes to land on their aircraft carriers.

Because of radio silence, the pilots would have to ditch their planes, most now low or out of fuel, hopefully somewhere near TF 58’s ships...and in total darkness...in the hopes of rescue from the sea.

That also meant the loss of many aircraft and potentially the loss of entire crews made up of from one to three men. That would be a terrible loss of human life.

So, the admiral (a member of the “black shoe” navy because he was a pilot) did the only thing possible. He had the entire fleet turn on all its lights to serve as an immense homing beacon to allow the planes and crews to return safely home.

While some did have to ditch and were later rescued, most landed on safe, secure decks. And as soon as the last plane had landed, the lights were immediately turned off and darkness returned to the Pacific.

The danger in turning on those lights? Submarines. The ships, especially the battleships and large carriers, would have been lit up like Christmas trees against the dark sky, presenting targets too inviting to pass up.

But nothing happened...Providence was with TF 58 that night. The carriers, their aircrews and the rest of the fleet continued on their way, unharmed.

Now, while it’s true the lights would have jeopardized the entire fleet, and thus the overall mission, it’s equally true that the loss of so many planes and men would have hampered the admiral’s mission.

Therefore, making the risky decision he did enabled the admiral to save many lives and carry out his assigned mission to defeat Japanese forces in his area.

Was Admiral Mitscher naive or stupid for risking thousands of lives in order to save a far smaller number? No. The admiral did what he had to do given the difficult circumstances handed to him, just like Captain Crozier.

In the end, both Admiral Marc Mitscher and Captain Brett Crozier sought to protect their crews as best they could. In the end, the admiral was, and still is, considered a hero for his actions while the captain has essentially been labeled an insubordinate naval officer.

Thus, the modern Navy’s rigid adherence to protocol proves to be far more important than the lives of the men and women of the U.S. Navy who must deal with a lurking and unseen enemy — COVID-19.

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