Marine To Be Given Boot Over Obama Remarks on Facebook

Do Servicemembers Have Free Speech?

I know most people who read this story will want to side with the Marine, and I would like to do so as well, but there’s a reason I would urge you to reconsider, and it’s important that for those of you who have no military service experience to understand why his conduct, much as it is heartening in many respects, is intolerable for the chain of command.  Part of the problem is that the full and specific text of his remarks haven’t been disclosed, but when Marine Sgt. Gary Stein, a 26-yo, 9-year Marine made his remarks, he did so in a public way that poses a problem to military discipline.  I don’t like Barack Obama’s policies either, and I would hope that no Airman, Marine, Sailor or Soldier would ever follow an unlawful order, but to post remarks on what constitutes an unlawful order, in the context of the sitting chain of command, is a serious problem for the military.

Sgt. Stein is in trouble, and he says he’s surprised it’s a big deal, or that they’re seriously considering kicking him out of the Marine Corps, (note to Barack Obama: That’s pronounced like “core,” not like “corpse,”) but as a Non-Commissioned Officer of the United States Marines, he must know such things are not to be tolerated, and for very good reasons.  Were he a discharged veteran, there would be no problem.  He runs a Facebook page I have seen, but I wince because I know what will befall him.

I hate this sort of case, because I’m placed in the position of the “bad guy,” telling people some important truths they may not wish to hear.  The fact that this young Sergeant made these remarks about a politician who I find to be detestable shouldn’t deter me from recognizing why it’s important that no service-member say such things, certainly not publicly, and why a non-commissioned officer must never say them so that his subordinates may hear or read of them.  I realize that tempers flare, and that our service-members are entitled to their own political views, as they should be, but they are in the military to protect our freedom of speech, but not there to practice it.  When every service-member enlists, or is commissioned, they swear an oath to defend and protect the Constitution of the United States, and to obey the orders of the President and those who the President appoints over them.  The presumption is always that these will be lawful orders.

The military must function with a chain of command that conveys both martial authority and delegates responsibilities.  When a service-member rises to become a non-commissioned officer, there are two things of note that occur:  The newly minted NCO is now entrusted with additional authority, and a higher standard of conduct is applied to all his or her actions, on duty or off.  This is because in function, to carry out a mission, the NCO will need the authority to issue orders, but with that authority comes a greater universe of responsibilities that extends to a higher standard of service and allegiance to the chain of command, and to the mission.  This is the professional standard expected of Non-Commissioned Officers, and it is a demanding one.

It must be this way because in combat, or in a war-time mission, the NCOs are the element of leadership that becomes most important in the organizational structure.  There are too few officers for them to be in every place at once, and NCOs are the professional core of the enlisted ranks upon which all military operations ultimately depend.  If you have poor NCOs, it won’t matter if you have great officers, and great junior enlisted personnel, because the force will suffer a vacuum of leadership that will ordinarily be crippling.  It is for this reason that the services spend billions of dollars each year developing its enlisted leaders.  The idea of a professional NCO has been an important core of the American fighting force throughout the nation’s history, and when a Sergeant makes comments that seem to disparage the chain of command, it is a highly unprofessional bit of conduct.

Now, as to the substance of what this particular Sergeant said, it’s not altogether clear how bad his transgressions may have been. There is little reported on the substance of his remarks, but rather some generalizations.  Here’s what is reported:

“Sgt. Gary Stein, a nine-year veteran, put comments on a Facebook page called the Armed Forces Tea Party page that said he would not follow unlawful orders from President Obama such as ordering the killing of Americans or taking guns away from Americans. He also criticized comments made by Defense Secretary Leon Panetta about Syria.”

“The Uniform Code of Military Justice prohibits uniformed personnel from making comments critical of their chain of command, including the commander-in-chief, or engaging in political activity in a context that suggests that are acting as military members.”

Stop. This is enough to land him in trouble.  By specifying specific individuals in and policies of the chain of command, Sgt. Stein would have violated his obligations as an enlisted service member and particularly his station as a Non-Commissioned Officer.  Unfortunately, they don’t offer any direct quotes for analysis, but if this reflects the actual nature of his remarks, they have a case, and he’s in trouble for good cause. The story continues:

“An investigation into Stein’s comments was ordered March 8 by the commanding officer of the weapons and field training battalion at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot in San Diego. On Wednesday, the Marine Corps announced that rather than file charges against Stein, the matter is being handled “through administrative action.”

“Stein, who hoped to reenlist, told the Associated Press that he plans to fight the Marine Corps’ intention to dismiss him.”

“I’m completely shocked that this is happening,” he told the AP. “I’ve done nothing wrong. I’ve only stated what our oath states: That I will defend the Constitution and that I will not follow unlawful orders. If that’s a crime, what is America coming to?”

I’m sorry to be placed in the position of disagreeing with Sgt. Klein, but if he indeed criticized Panetta by name or position, and the specific policy as it applies to Syria(or anything else,) he has indeed violated the trust with which the military had privileged him.  An NCO simply cannot go about disparaging the chain of command.  No soldier should, but when it comes to NCOs, they are expected to exhibit a higher standard of professionalism, and this isn’t it.  The remark about Obama and unlawful orders might not have been so bad, in isolation, because in that sense, he is stating a general premise about not obeying unlawful orders, although calling out this specific president conveys a certain lack of support for this particular chain of command that is unseemly for an NCO.  They are and must be held to a higher standard, and again, Sgt Klein here fails to maintain that standard.

Understand that my appraisal here is that of a man who was a Sergeant at roughly the same age that this young man is now, and I note with some sadness that when I was an up-and-coming NCO, I had a pretty solid chain of command, so I wouldn’t have suffered from such doubts.  With that in mind, however, I cannot fail to mention that he should not have said these things, and certainly not broadcast publicly on the Internet.  I’d urge all soldiers to hold their tongues on political matters, precisely because this is harmful to the United States, whether you agree with this President’s policies or not.  I realize that none would carry out unlawful orders if they were issued, but the presumption of a soldier, particularly a mid-career Marine NCO, must be that the orders he will be issued will be lawful.  To spout about non-existent, highly speculative future unlawful orders in the context of a particular president is not prudent, and exhibits a lack of professional judgment, even if I agree with is political views.

In combat, or even in training, the military relies heavily on its non-commissioned officers to carry out the mission, and it cannot tolerate, not even in minor ways, what constitutes the threat of mutinous conduct, or rabble-rousing in its ranks.  I know.  He said “unlawful orders.”  Fine.  The problem is that under certain circumstances, the President may order the killing of Americans or the seizure of guns. Those are limited circumstances indeed, but the discretion to determine which instances constitute an unlawful order lies not with a Marine Sergeant make conjecture about some unknown future order.  There are only very limited circumstances where such discretion is left to the individual service-member.  Sgt. Klein knew or ought to have known better than to let his public pronouncements go this far. Whether the punishment fits the crime is a matter of judgment on the part of local commanders, and the problem we have in assessing it is that we don’t have the full facts, or even the full text of Sgt. Klein’s remarks.  Let us hope that military authorities are not over-reacting here.  Chances are that they are not.

I realize there are those of you who will take issue with me over this, and that’s fine, but the problem is that I also understand how important the integrity of the corps of military Non-Commissioned Officers is to the safety of our nation.  Our military must not be undermined, neither from without or from within, and the conduct of Sgt. Klein threatens to do so, whether he sees that or not.  While I agree with his general assessments, to the degree they have been presented, that doesn’t mean I endorse the fact that he pronounced them publicly.  My advice to service-members who have similar views is very simple, and I know that most of them will understand me as I explain it:

For the term of your service, keep your mouth closed in public, and on the Internet still your fingers in saying or writing things publicly that would tend to place you in such a situation.  In other words,  while you are right to practice politics via your vote, as long as you are in the services, you need to be as apolitical as you are able, although in your talks with family, friends, and others in closed circumstances, you might still enjoy some of your limited freedom of speech, but you must do so with caution and an abundance of reverence for the oath you swore, that did not specify the party or politics of the Commander-in-Chief.  In other words, brothers and sisters, you must not permit your expressions to compromise your ability to lead, or shake the confidence of those who serve under you, in the chain of command.  Please remember this, and serve out your time in honor, and with respect for your oaths.  For those of you who are entrusted with positions of leadership, please remember that yours is an important role, and to undercut it with loose talk about the politics of the chain of command is to undermine yourselves.

I know the vast majority of our servicemen and women know and practice all of this, and it’s unnecessary to say it to most of you, but for those who are frustrated most with what you see coming out of Washington, I ask you to keep your cool.  This presidency and this particular chain of command is not permanent, so if you’ll wait around a while, it will change.  Whether you like that or not is your affair, but how you give voice to it is a matter of military discipline.  We need good and patriotic Airmen, Marines, Sailors, and Soldiers, and you had better believe that if things ever do go to hell in this country, we will have special need of you then.  Keep the faith, and stay strong, but do not put your careers at risk for temporary expressions of your frustrations.  We need you to stay strong, and I will do what I am able to support you.

To my friends in the Marine Corps, “Semper Fidelis.”

To those of you who are non-veteran civilians, I would remind you that you have a special responsibility too.  These young men and women in whose hands we place the security of our nation need your support too, and part of that is knowing not to ask or urge them to make statements of this sort publicly.  If they make them to you privately, that’s one thing, but do not expose them to legal liability on this basis.  Instead, as family members and friends, go be their voice.  They’re serving your security interests, and the least you can do is to try to represent their interests and support them.  Veterans, you will know precisely what I mean, and because you do know, having served, and because you now have your freedom of speech restored, you have a special responsibility because only you can express to those who do not know, what it is that soldiers must give up to serve their country.  It isn’t always measured in blood and lives, but more commonly the right to speak out publicly.  Let we veterans resolve particularly to be their voice so that our active-duty brethren feel no need to expose themselves to trouble, and so that our non-veteran neighbors can know the special meaning we hold the trust to which they have entrusted our fighting forces.

 

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  • donpurser

    As a Vietnam vet, a former Army Warrant Officer helicopter pilot, you are right-on here Mark.  Our military has had great success because of its discipline and attention to chain of command and…in Spite Of the interference of politicians.  Politicians will do what they do and soldiers should also do what they do – lets keep our military strong and not let them be pulled or distracted from their mission.  

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100001951614348 Rogue Rose

    Well, I couldn’t disagree more Mark.  His statement about refusing to follow unlawful/Unconstitutional orders serves as a reminder to fellow military members of their duty and obligation in their oath to refuse to follow unlawful/Unconstitutional orders. “I, (NAME), do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I
    will support and defend the Constitution of the United States ..”
    That’s how our military protects the country first and foremost. Our nation is
    ruled by We the People, not some privileged rulers or political class.
    They work for us. All authority they have has been given by us, even the
    ability to rule on issues of constitutionality of laws or orders. In
    order to confer authority, one must possess the authority. So We the
    People, including our military, have individual authority to make determinations of
    constitutionality. Anyone that says our military members don’t have both
    the right and the duty to make those individual determinations should
    google Nuremberg Trials.” I believe he is concerned about the dangers facing our nation under the NDAA and decided to issue a reminder to his fellow military members. Combining that with the long list of unconstitutional and illegal actions taken by this President, which you’ve chronicled at length, I don’t see that his reminder was premature. I believe his principled stance would give those under his authority even more confidence in his leadership, being fully confident they will never be ordered by him to do anything unlawful or Unconstitutional.  If there’s no ability to have those discussions about what constitutes an unlawful or Unconstitutional order in the context of current policies or actions, how can we expect them to make informed decisions when exercising that duty? 

    I’ve checked out his site and agree he’s walking a very thin line.  I know he shut down his site while he sought professional legal advice, so time will tell what the outcome will be. Until then, I respectfully submit that we’ll have to agree to disagree.

    • http://markamerica.com markamerica

      Rose, We can agree to disagree, but my own service experience tells me he’s in trouble, and frankly, he shouldn’t be engaged in this. Soldiers yield their freedom of speech when they take the oath. That’s a fact. Now you can go on a mad tear, or you can confront the reality. That’s first. Second, soldiers answer to the chain of command… not to you and I directly. Soldiers do not have standing to make the determinations you specify except under the most extraordinary circumstances. They just don’t. This is not Mark talking, but instead 236 years of our military’s history, regulations, and the laws governing the conduct of soldiers.

      Sorry, but you’re reacting to this in a fashion that will not help Sgt. Stein, and will not help others avoid the same pitfalls. You bring up Nuremberg Trials, but and I’m telling you that the situation to which you are referencing would be an extraordinary situation, but that situation is not now extant, and inasmuch as that is the case, a soldier can’t run around doing this without facing real trouble. Sorry Rose, but that’s the fact. Feel free to disagree. Your beliefs are not relevant to this matter from the perspective of the military hearing he will now face. Do you think his entire chain of command is ignorant? Do you think his local commander, and the commanders above him are all part of some conspiracy to silence this one Marine? The problem you’re landing yourself in with such a claim is that while you are saying he is acting properly, your implication is that his commanders are not.

      How do you disparage the entire chain of command, that includes all the people between he and the civilian leadership in Washington? This is the problem with engaging in or encouraging this kind of conduct by soldiers of any rank. They’re not permitted this latitude in free speech. Simply not…

      • http://markamerica.com markamerica

        Rose, and let me take this a step further: To have protected the services from the miserable civilians now sitting atop the chain of command required only that we citizens, who do enjoy the right to free speech and political activism, had stood up and said “no” to the election of Barack Obama. When these guys and gals swear their oaths, put on the uniform, and go off to do the bidding of the chain of command, it is incumbent upon us to make sure that chain of command is a good one.

  • Carlirwin32

    was this Marine right or wrong? It depends on the chain of command now doesn`t it. I was with the 11th infantry in vietnam in 1969, it was a company from the 11th that carried out the famous My Lai massacre where more than 300 villagers were killed, the chain of command was really something to behold, the cover up started at company level and traveled right up to the top. but justice was served because one soldier like this marine spoke out. Questions really begin to form in soldiers heads about the competence of that chain of command when they receive orders like the one recently to disarm. as a veteran I know why the military has this rule, but that is a two way street, we are not blind sheep and if you show you are incompetent people will speak out, combat is dangerous enough without the added burden of following incompetent people. actually telling those Marines to disarm was a show of no confidence in the troops, and do not think they did not pick up on that. plus the military uses this rule selectively, I remember many times a GI talking to a reporter in Vietnam questioning the command and how the war was being fought and no actions were taken, I remember black soldiers speaking out about racism from the chain of command and this rule was not applied to them. so was this Marine right or wrong? depends on the whim of the high command doesn`t it, they are very selective in how they apply this rule.

    • http://www.markamerica.com/ Mark America

      Carl, here’s the point: It’s up to we civilians to police the military, and the leaders who we appoint to act as the commander-in-chief. This young Sgt is undoubtedly a fine young man, and I have no doubt but that the services are teaming with such people. As you, I served long enough to know that about the men and women who serve. What becomes the problem is when you speak out against the chain of command, you’re taking your own career in your own hands, and it certainly does matter who is in that chain of command. Clearly, with the current civilians who head our C-in-C, this young Sgt is very aware of what kind of people they are, and what they would likely do. Apparently, according to one story, he was at this before over Obamacare, and he was warned then. The thing is, whether a particular chain of command is willing to do anything about it, it’s kind of like the traffic cop: If he’s in a good mood today, maybe you get a warning. If he’s in a foul mood, maybe he treats it like a felony stop, ordering you out of the car at gunpoint.

      I feel for this guy, I really do, but I also know what the regs say, and I know how broadly they can be interpreted. This isn’t the first time something like this has happened, and it’s not the first time something has been done about it.

      • the unit

        No argument against any of your points, with nation being unified against our enemy or tyranny.  Now though we have chain of command that disarms our Marines in  Afghanistan to listen to ole flat butt speak. And it is 1860 again. We are in peacetime national defense mode. So what civilian leader is worthy of blind obedience?   Good to know Marine won’t shoot me or collect my personal defense slingshot.

        I hope we can hold on to all you explain, rightfully so,  is the backbone of our nations security. If we stay home and not vote…why should we think the rest works?  Not vote is surrender…to vote is being game to fight another battle.

  • http://nebraskaenergyobserver.wordpress.com/ Dave

    Unhappily, I agree, the strength of our military (and all western militaries since Rome) as well as most of the traditions are carried by the NCOs. As such the Sargeant has a special responsibility both up and down the chain of command. I think, with regret and to little information, that he crossed the line.

  • Hoboduke

    Reminds me of another military member of  a much higher rank, General Patton who continually was in trouble for public relations issues.  Anyway, the future of our country relies upon entrusting our military to be loyal to the USA and the citizens.  A sign of disrespect to the commander in chief can technically end his career.  However, the deeper question for all; “Will the military be ready to lay their down life if needed on future missions, if they do not trust the commander in chief?”  We can prohibit public speech of the military, but can we citizens allow our military  become demoralized by multiple combat tours with so many laying down their life as we pull out as if nothing happened?

  • Jaazzzyj

    You protect free speech you don’t have free speech…The boy done hosed himself! They told him to take it down in 2010,he call the POTUS a domestic terrorist! He spoke against the DOD SEC. my God,it is not a wonder they don’t put him in jail. If you talk about your boss down at the factory …..expect a pink slip….  
    JJ USAF Retired
    Charleston SC

  • mrousnr

    Mark,

                    We have
    a President that is shredding the US Constitution!   He very clearly and boldly violated it with non-recess,
    recess appointments, when he as a former Senator was very aware the Senate was
    NOT in recess!

                    The
    DADT repeal was executed in violation of the law from congress.  That law required an extensive review and
    promised all questions would be answered, they WERE NOT!

                    This
    president has a DOJ that very clearly and intentionally gave weapons to criminals,
    in violation of the laws, and with consequences of some of our guys now being
    dead with those same weapons, and this was clearly done with the intent to  clamp down and erode our Constitutional
    rights in the 2nd Amendment!

                    He is
    actively working to collapse the system vis a vis Cloward and Piven, by the 5
    Trillion in new debt in less that 4 years!

                    He has
    our guys in a war zone with hands tied, and him apologizing about burning some
    books previously desecrated by the enemy, while our guys are being murdered in
    cold blood by our supposed partners!

                    These
    are NOT normal times, we need many MORE SGT. Klein’s not less.  The reason we EACH take an oath directly to
    the Constitution against all enemies foreign and DOMESTIC is to protect it even
    from enemies within.  

                    How
    much more evidence do we need to see that the one at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. is
    one of these!?  (that is when not on what
    seems to be an unbroken string of vacations and fundraisers!).

                    Yes,
    there are ways to do this that might be better, but our Congress has the
    OBLIGATION to their oath to act, and they do not.  They are OBLIGATED to Impeach, and the Senate
    to remove form office, the President has clearly violated his limits on power,
    per the US Constitution, but they make political calculations to not act, which
    makes them also negligent and accomplices to the destruction we see, and guys
    like SGT. Klein see this and feel they need to do SOMETHING to honor their own
    oath, but you would have them say nothing?

                    If we
    came to a time were the US military was ordered to seize guns from Americans,
    it would be up to the SGT Klein’s of the world to rightfully STOP this, but if
    they shut up like you suggest, they’d be unable to stop it, and we’d all be
    doomed.

                    This is
    the times in which we live, and it is not normal at all.  Our enemies to the US Constitution are very
    much within, and to those who study the Constitution and take the oath
    seriously, they feel compelled to do something, and that is what SGT Klein did,
    and you turned you back on him.  Think
    about this for awhile…

    http://minorityrightsadvocate.wordpress.com/2011/08/18/destruction-of-the-us-military-from-within/

     

    http://minorityrightsadvocate.wordpress.com/2011/05/23/the-military-is-not-ready-for-the-dadt-repeal-no-matter-what-the-spin-they-cannot-address-the-questions-from-the-front-line-leaders-or-front-line-members/

    • http://www.markamerica.com/ Mark America

      I’m not turning my back on anybody. And yes, I would have him remain quiet, It is more important for our nation that he be there, in place, believing as he does, than to get himself into the trouble his activism has gotten him.

      You an I can state the entire list you did, and it’s fine, but a service-member cannot. What I’m suggesting to you is that it’s better for all of us if the service-members who feel as Sgt.Klein to remain quiet. What he’s done gives the chain of command every reason to do what they will do to him. It’s our job to do what he’s doing. Just as it is his job to protect the country by carrying out his orders, and we must trust that he will do it, it’s our job to do the politicking, and he must trust us to do that.

      I’ve run across too many people who suffer under a mistaken notion of what it is to serve in the military. If Harry Truman can fire General MacArthur for running his yap, you can bet this young Sgt has landed himself in serious trouble.

      The things he is saying indicate he’s probably a good Marine, but the fact that he’s saying them means that if the day comes when we will need Marines who share his view, they will have been dismissed. It’s called “keeping one’s powder dry.” This is what we need such service men and women to do. By engaging in this sort of political activism, he’s invited the scrutiny from the chain of command.

      As you know, I don’t disagree with anything it’s so far been reported that he has said. The problem isn’t what he said, but that in his position, he said it at all as a service-member. If he had started the group “Veterans again…” it would have been more difficult to fight, but by making it about actively-serving members, it was inevitable that this would invite trouble for him. I feel as badly as anybody for him, but how I feel about it doesn’t do anything to change the rules under which he volunteered to live. In uniform, you still retain the right to vote, but that is the extent to which your political activism is permitted, more or less. You may get to cast a vote for president, but you do not get to choose your own rules because you don’t care for the commander-in-chief chosen by the electorate. The military simply cannot sustain that and remain a viable fighting force, so they have no choice but to go after him.

      • the unit

        Everything you write is right on , including the article and the above. But chain of command is no stronger than the weakest link…now the first link.  In these times there must be a little tongue in cheek, oops…in these times it’s likely.
        A little Navy humor…”The Chief & the SeamanThe Navy Chief noticed a new seaman and barked at him, “Get over here! What’s your name sailor?”
        “John,” the new seaman replied.
        “Look, I don’t know what kind of bleeding-heart pansy crap they’re teaching sailors in boot camp nowdays, but I don’t call anyone by his first name,” the chief scowled. “It breeds familiarity, and that leads to a breakdown in authority. I refer to my sailors by their last names only; Smith, Jones, Baker, whatever. And you are to refer to me as ‘Chief’. Do I make myself clear?” 
        “Aye, Aye Chief!” 
        “Now that we’ve got that straight, what’s your last name?”The seaman sighed. “Darling, My name is John Darling, Chief.”

        “Okay, John, here’s what I want you to do …..”
        More at http://usswalton.com/?page_id=222

      • mrousnr

        Mark, 

         Look, I’m in a
        position where I too have to consider what I say, because of who I am, and I
        don’t say what I do in those positions, but I can tell you for FACT that
        the left is NOT following the rules.  The
        unions violate the law, using taxpayer funds to advocate for Dems, on Government
        time, and I’ve stood up to protest, but NOTHING happens, because the corruption
        goes all the way to the TOP.   
            Yes, it is BEST
        that private citizens do this so the military does not have too, but we are NOT
        doing it, because we have a guy in charge who is shredding the Constitution, and
        our Representatives are not taking action! 

            His oath is to the
        Constitution, so if he sees what we all see, and then does not speak out, he is
        part of the problem, and if he speaks out we throw him under the bus. 

           Are you seeing the
        dilemma we have here?

         I would ask you to read in full the 2 links I provided, and
        think about that exchange for a bit.  The
        person who provided that inside information could also be thrown aside for
        daring to expose the corruption and destruction that is taking place from the inside,
        this is where the battle is taking place, and it is coming from the top!

         We are not in normal times. 
        We have a President who we don’t know, and who it seems there is plenty
        of credible evidence to suggest is not even a Legal President, but that is
        minor when we look at the blatant acts against the Constitution that are not
        subjective, they are verifiable fact, and this week we should see his signature
        ObamaCare ruled unconstitutional, any yet he is STILL there. 
        Some of us can see that it is dangerous to think the
        election will solve the problem, the Constitution demands that those who take
        an oath to defend it take the actions required to do so, and speaking out is
        one thing, but to Congress, it seems Impeachment is mandated, but they sit on their
        hands making political calculations, leaving our troops under a Commander in Chief
        who they can see is attacking the same Constitution they are supposed to defend!!
        This all comes from breakdown of our collective morality,
        which has been the goal of the far left, so we are at a tipping point, but we
        need to stick together and stand with others who see the threat, not cast them
        aside and complain about the manner and timing of their actions.  True, it was not the best way, or method, but
        I think he feels compelled to do something, and that led him to where he is
        now, and we should not come down hard on the messenger in this case.