Posts Tagged ‘Marines’

Marine To Be Given Boot Over Obama Remarks on Facebook

Thursday, March 22nd, 2012

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.

 

Marines Disarmed for Panetta Visit: Why?

Friday, March 16th, 2012

Panetta Addresses Troops

On Wednesday, the story came out that Marines in Afghanistan had been disarmed for the visit of Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta.  Many were puzzled or disgusted over this, for the implications about which it speaks volumes.  If the Secretary of Defense is that worried about our own troops, perhaps he should not be serving in that post.  Of course, I have a feeling I understand the real reason for this policy, and it may not be about our troops, or at least not all of them.  Could it be that Secretary Panetta doesn’t want to be scored as another victim of military “workplace violence,” should another Muslim soldier angry about recent events try to act out his or her anger? I offer this only half in jest, because the behavior of leadership in this case is perplexing. I don’t understand why the Marines were treated in this way, and it can hardly inspire confidence in our service-members if they are led to doubt whether they have the full trust of the chain of command.

As we know, the Obama administration has done its best to sweep Army Major Nidal Hasan’s act under the carpet by labeling it as “workplace violence” rather than as an act of terrorism, despite all of the evidence demonstrating the link between Hasan and militant Muslim extremists.  I was astonished to learn about the details of Panetta’s visit, and that our own Marines were disarmed allegedly because our Afghan allies who were in attendance were likewise disarmed.  As an Army veteran myself, I could see why the security details of dignitaries might have some concern, particularly in the aftermath of the incident last weekend with the soldier who went on a shooting rampage, killing sixteen Afghan civilians, but I also know that was an aberration and says nothing about the entire force.

Still, I find it incredible that the Secretary of Defense would take this view of his own military.  I wonder if he was worried about another act of “workplace violence.”  After all, isn’t that what the Obama administration calls it?  When a lone attacker plowed through a fence and into a ditch at the airbase where Panetta was about to arrive, I would have classified it as an act of terrorism, but with Panetta being part of the military hierarchy, wouldn’t this merely be classified by the Obama administration as another act of “workplace violence?”

I wonder if the Obama administration knows how much contempt it has wrought by that classification.  This sort of thing has ramifications not only for soldiers in the field, but the whole force structure’s confidence in the chain of command.  Perhaps that is part of the trouble here:  Being near a large military base, I’ve heard an unusual number of grumbles about the chain of command and its general temperament with respect to the military.   That’s never a healthy proposition for the military, and I know the lower end of the chain of command struggles to tamp down that sort of thing.  Still, I’m certain the Obama administration is conscious of the growing displeasure from some wider body of the military.  The budget cuts, the ridiculous rules of engagement, and all the over-tasking our service-members now endure are adding to the strain.

I wonder if this was the idea of Panetta, or his own staff, or whether it was the product of an abundance of caution on the part of local commanders.  Either way, it signifies a break-down in the long-established and traditional notion of trust between civilian leadership and the uniformed services, and I find it atrocious on all counts.  I remember being visited in the field as a young soldier by dignitaries including the Secretary of the Army, John Marsh, under Ronald Reagan, and we didn’t put our weapons away.  Of course, that was a different environment, or under different global conditions, but it was also a far different chain of command that viewed its fighting men and women with reverence.  Unless they had real and specific concerns, this will only serve to have widened the gulf in confidence between civilian leadership and our military, and that is never a happy development for the United States, or its Armed Services.

 

 

A Note About The Marine Incident

Sunday, January 15th, 2012

A Forgotten Border

Much has been made of this incident on which I reported Friday, and it reminds me of something else I witnessed many years ago.  I was serving in the Army in Germany, and the year was 1985.  I hadn’t been in my unit there very long when an opportunity arose to see a bit of the German countryside.  Of course, the area I was able to look at on this trip wasn’t something most people younger than 35-40 really remember or understand, and it wasn’t a pleasure trip.  Periodically, the battalion would charter a bus and take all the new people who’d arrived over the last ninety days on a tour of the border between West Germany and Czechoslovakia.  It was a part of the unit’s effort to show us the ground we would likely defend, and the nature of the enemy we would face if a war broke out between the Soviet Union and NATO.  On that fateful trip, our tour triggered an “international incident” due to the behavior of one of my fellow soldiers.

At various points along the path, the bus would stop, and we would unload and be told about the things at which we were looking.  One of those stops took us right up to the border, onto a road that runs parallel and on the west edge of what had been the frontier between East and West.  We could see the fences, and the razor-wire were hung with dew on the cold, damp, dreary morning.  In easy earshot, never mind rifle shot, of a guard tower, we unloaded and looked around.  We were under strict instructions to do no pointing or make any gestures of any kind, because they could be taken as a sign of hostility, and could lead at the very least to a serious incident, since the guard towers had not only machine-gun emplacements, but also cameras with which to document our tour.  One of the geniuses in my unit thought it would be a great idea to walk off by himself and drop trow facing East, and take a whiz facing directly at the tower.

The public affairs officer who had us on the tour saw this and fairly tackled the guy.  It was too late, as we could hear the rapid shutter snaps as a pictures were taken.  It was nearly a three hour ride by bus back to our installation, and nobody said a word.  As we pulled up at the Headquarters building, our Battalion Commander and our Sergeant Major(the battalion’s highest ranking enlisted man) were waiting on the sidewalk.   The incident had been reported already up the chain on the Eastern Bloc side, traveled through diplomatic channels, and down through our chain of command, beating the bus back to our post by more than two hours.  The Sergeant Major stuck his head in the door of the bus as fast as it opened, and pointed at the offending soldier and said simply his name and “You’re with me, NOW!”  He and the Lt. Colonel disappeared through a crowd of suits I hadn’t noticed before, but our comrade in arms was effectively gone.  This incident began the end of his short Army career.  Even in 1985, the Department of Defense didn’t take lightly the notion of giving the “adversary” a propaganda victory.

The reason I recount this to you is because on Friday, after Congressman Allen West’s statement made mention that the Marines in the current incident should receive Field Grade Article non-judicial punishment, and there was murmuring from some quarters that nothing should happen to them at all.  I wanted you to know that such a punishment was precisely the first step in disciplining a soldier back in 1985 when our unit’s urination incident occurred.  While it’s easy for you and I to say that yes, “Hooah, piss on those corpses,”  more is at stake in this situation than four Marines’ momentary indiscretion.  At present, our government is negotiating with the Taliban, and whether you or I, but particularly those Marines like it or not, they are servants of this nation’s foreign policy, no matter how much any of us think that policy is mistaken. Soldiers don’t make foreign policy, but must serve the chain of command in implementing it.

My fellow veterans will know precisely what I mean, because they understand that once you put on that uniform, you are not a sovereign individual for the length of your service.  This is one of the reasons I chastise police officers who occasionally like to think of themselves in terms of a military organization.  As I point out to them, if they’re in the midst of a stand-off, they can surrender their badge and walk away, and other than the difficulty they might have in ever working in that field again, they face no real consequences.  If a soldier tries that on the battlefield, he may well be shot.  It’s for this reason, this matter of unit discipline that these soldiers must be prosecuted and punished in some form by the chain of command.  I don’t like it in this case, and I wish it weren’t so, but that’s the truth of the matter, and I owe it to tell you so, much as any person among their chain of command might feel sympathy for their position, but must nevertheless contend with the issue at hand.

It’s for this reason that I understand Allen West’s statement all too well.  It’s the mark of a solid leader that he understands what must happen in this case, despite the fact that he may well not like it. These four Marines are in for a hard time over this incident, and you had better prepare to read of their eventual punishment.

On the other hand, I suspect the Obama administration may seek to make an unduly harsh example of these four, and I hope that isn’t the case.  Since the State Department has been negotiating quietly with the Taliban for some time, I expect this will now become a new sore spot.  While I believe that we shouldn’t be negotiating with these people, it is nevertheless current US foreign policy, otherwise known as “elections have consequences.”  I just hope for the sake of these Marines that they’re not dealt with in a severe fashion in order to appease the Taliban.  That’s the biggest worry they now face, and I hope this will serve as a reminder to service-members everywhere that you are an instrument of US foreign policy, so it’s best not to do these things, and it’s certainly not a good idea to record it, much as I suspect I’d have felt and perhaps acted in much the same way had I been among them.

Note: For those of you who are too young to really remember the Cold War, or in fact, for anybody who wishes to refresh their memory, I’d encourage you to check out this site, from which the image above was gathered, as the gentleman who runs the site seems to have served there contemporaneously with me, and you can learn a good deal about what it was really like.

Hooah: Allen West Responds to Marine Urination Incident: War is Hell

Friday, January 13th, 2012

Allen West (R-FL)

The Weekly Standard is reporting on a statement via email from Congressman Allen West(R-FL) on the incident involving Marines who urinated on three Taliban Corpses.  West is known particularly for his own service, having retired from the Army  as a Lt. Colonel.  His statement reflects the view of a military realist, who understands the real nature of war, and the things that sometimes happen on the battlefield.  I think the hand-wringers would do well to listen to West on this one, as his statement comports well with my own statement on the matter.   I wish all of our veterans in government were willing to be this blunt:

“I have sat back and assessed the incident with the video of our Marines urinating on Taliban corpses. I do not recall any self-righteous indignation when our Delta snipers Shugart and Gordon had their bodies dragged through Mogadishu. Neither do I recall media outrage and condemnation of our Blackwater security contractors being killed, their bodies burned, and hung from a bridge in Fallujah.

“All these over-emotional pundits and armchair quarterbacks need to chill. Does anyone remember the two Soldiers from the 101st Airborne Division who were beheaded and gutted in Iraq?

“The Marines were wrong. Give them a maximum punishment under field grade level Article 15 (non-judicial punishment), place a General Officer level letter of reprimand in their personnel file, and have them in full dress uniform stand before their Battalion, each personally apologize to God, Country, and Corps videotaped and conclude by singing the full US Marine Corps Hymn without a teleprompter.

“As for everyone else, unless you have been shot at by the Taliban, shut your mouth, war is hell.”

I have but one thing to say to this: “Hooah!

Hand-Wringers Whine About Marines Urinating on Corpses of Taliban Fighters

Friday, January 13th, 2012

Who's "Deplorable?"

There are those who simply cannot avoid rushing in front of a camera, expressing their outrage at the behavior of the Marines in this video that surfaced, showing graphic footage of four Marines in Afghanistan urinating on the corpses of three dead Taliban fighters.  Defense Secretary Leon Panetta called the incident “deplorable” and “inappropriate,” but I think the administration’s outrage is inappropriate.  These Marines, when captured, are subjected to far worse at the hands of the Taliban fighters, and frankly, it’s time to stop being a bunch of whiners about this. War is Hell, and while we shouldn’t encourage this, it is a natural result of the stresses of combat, but some of us clearly need to harden up.

Was it dignified?  No.  But to entertain the complaints of people like Afghan President Hamid Karzai as though his chief concerns about the inhumane nature of this act is in any way relevant is a sham.   The Department of Defense is investigating, and it is now being reported that the Marines have been identified as part of an ongoing Marine Corps investigation. You can view the video below, but as the still frame indicates, it is graphic:

[vodpod id=ExternalVideo.1010216&w=425&h=350&fv=allowfullscreen%3D]

I cannot believe Senator John McCain came before cameras today to condemn this.  As those of you who follow this blog will know, I’m not given to fits of profanity and I don’t generally resort to such things, but to the senior Senator from Arizona, Campaign Suspender and Self-Saboteur of 2008,  RINO-endorser, and perpetual Republican thorn in the side, let me say this: STFU!  And Senator, if you don’t know what this means, ask your delightful daughter who regaled the MSNBC studio with an odd statement about an “emoticon of privacy.”  I’m sure she can tell you.  As an unrelated sidebar, for those who don’t understand, watch Mehgan McCain’s brilliance.  Apparently, like father, like daughter in this case:

Meanwhile, I have only one remaining question: How is Obama going to handle this?  When he issues a statement, will he say that the Marine “Corpse” is investigating?

If you want to know why we’re losing in Afghanistan, you need only consider that we’re more interested in prosecuting Marines who used poor judgment in directing their streams of urine than we are in prosecuting our war.  If this is to be considered some sort of “atrocity,” then I think we all need to consider who’s really taking the piss, and at whose expense.