And the Moron answers…

Reader Aaron from Australia has posed a few questions in response to this, and they were such good questions, I thought they deserved their own post.

Questions sure i can think of a few.

1) If a soldier is ordered to perform a duty which is unlawful how does the soldier deal with it ideally and in reality?

Ideally, the soldier will inform the chain of command and refuse to comply. There aren’t a heck of a lot of orders that are unlawful. Basically, it would take a direct order to kill or torture prisoners or civilians to meet this standard. As a practical matter, I just don’t know, since I never came remotely close to such a situation. It calls for a special type of courage. Armies have had little trouble finding physical courage on the battlefield, but finding moral courage is much harder. The Army tries hard to instill that moral courage in its soldiers, but ultimately I think it is more a matter of culture and upbringing.

2) Why does the military make it difficult for gays to serve the country?

That is actually a matter of law, passed by Congress signed into effect by the President. The military’s policies merely reflect the law of the land. It is mostly a cultural matter. America is still a predominantly Christian nation and many people find homosexual conduct to be sinful or repugnant. The military implication of that is the potential damage to unit cohesion. My personal opinion is that the current Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell is about the best we can hope right now. I think in another 10-20 years, though, that public opinion will change enough that the transition to gays to serving openly will be made and it will be relatively painless.

3) How difficult is is really for those that exit the military (in it’s various forms and ways) to obtain gainful employment and a comfortable life? In my father’s case in Aus the military was no real gain or loss to his blue collar living, he just returned to his previous field of work. The only other cases I know of for sure was a very screwed up guy here who was incapable of work and John who seems to have leveraged it into fairly decent contractor work.

One of the big lies from the Vietnam war was the portrayal of veterans in TV and movies as a nutjob homeless loser. As a whole, veterans of the war actually tend to earn more than their peers. The veterans of WWII leveraged their GI Bill into a massive explosion of post-secondary education that fundamentally changed the college experience in America and led to a huge increase in the number of professionals that in turn enabled much of America’s awesome growth in the post-war era while much of the rest of the world suffered from financial difficulty or ruin.

My own experience has been a generally positive one. I got my first civilian job precisely because I was a veteran, even though I had no experience at all in the industry. While there isn’t a huge market for old, broken infantrymen, there are lots of employers who love to hire folks that they know will show up to work on time and who aren’t afraid of a little sweat. Many Fortune 500 companies have programs designed to recruit veterans.

4) How much defence value would civilians (some of whom might be ex military) with small arms or other commonly distributed weapons be in the case of a real invasion given the attitudes and behaviours of those people.

As we have seen in Iraq and Afghanistan, an armed populace can be quite troublesome. I can’t really see how a country as large as America could be invaded, so your question would be pretty much entirely hypothetical. Besides, one of the main reasons the Founding Fathers gave us the Second Amendment wasn’t to repel invaders, but to serve as a check on the power of our own government. We’ve been such an amazingly stable nation that the prospect of our having to use those weapons has been mostly remote. The Civil War is not quite an example of “the militia” in action as it was really two “nation-states” fighting, but it is interesting that the South, with its greater heritage of shooting and military service, was able to fight far longer than would be expected by the correlation of forces.

5) Why are women not permitted to serve as combatants (apart from law).

Part of it is cultural, part of it is physical. Technically, any soldier on the battlefield with the exception of medical personnel and chaplains are combatants. But our law prohibits women from serving in ground units with a direct ground combat role, such as infantry, armor, cavalry and artillery. Our culture still doesn’t really see women as warriors, but prefers to think of women as nurturers. Secondly, look at the exclusions I listed. Each one of these roles requires a great deal of upper body strength that few women possess. Yes, you could find a few women that could do it, but it just isn’t worth the hassle, and those women are few and far between.

6) Is the perception of say a supplies person lesser than that of a combatant? ie are the roles all respected equally?

It was true in my case. Any person behind you is a pouge. My  dismounts thought the crews were REMFs, I though the company HQ was a bunch of REMFs and the guys way the heck back at the Brigade trains spent all their time complaining about the feather merchants back at division.

Having said that, most of the time, when you complain about someone else having a cushy job, it is in good humor and not a judgment on them as people. I’ve met a lot of folks who served in jobs that held no interest for me, but I sure understood that the job needed to be done.

7) I see a great deal of snarking between military fields ie navy, army, air, marine etc. How much real respect exists between them? Do they really see their own branch as superior or is this some kind of competitive game which is overall positive?

Mostly, it is just snark. I really do see the Army as superior to all others, and will tease the “also rans” but usually, it is just a goof.

8) Why does the military allow soldiers to be used as guinea pigs for experiments against their will?

Like what? The anthrax vaccine? It was a risk/reward assesment that showed the potential downside of the vaccine was much smaller than the potential of massive casualties from a bio attack.

The most visible case I can think of for using soldiers as guinea pigs wasn’t the nukes or any of that. It was a radical drug back in the 40s that the civilian government deplored as untested and with little prospect of being tested. The methods of production and storage hadn’t been investigated by the civilians and clinical trials hadn’t even been started when the Army placed it in full production and began administering it to soldiers without consent of any sort, much less informed consent. The drug? Pennicillin.

9) Why is the pay level so low?

E-9 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.00 4254.60 4350.90 4472.40 4615.50 4759.20 4990.50 5185.80 5391.60 5705.70 5705.70 5991.00 5991.00 6290.70 6290.70 6605.40 6605.40
E-8 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.00 3482.70 3636.90 3732.30 3846.60 3970.20 4193.70 4306.80 4499.40 4606.20 4869.60 4869.60 4967.10 4967.10 4967.10 4967.10 4967.10 4967.10
E-7 2421.00 2642.40 2743.50 2877.90 2982.30 3162.00 3263.10 3443.10 3592.50 3694.50 3803.10 3845.40 3986.70 4062.60 4351.20 4351.20 4351.20 4351.20 4351.20 4351.20 4351.20 4351.20
E-6 2094.00 2304.00 2405.70 2504.40 2607.60 2840.10 2930.40 3105.00 3158.70 3197.70 3243.30 3243.30 3243.30 3243.30 3243.30 3243.30 3243.30 3243.30 3243.30 3243.30 3243.30 3243.30
E-5 1918.80 2047.20 2145.90 2247.30 2405.10 2570.70 2705.40 2722.20 2722.20 2722.20 2722.20 2722.20 2722.20 2722.20 2722.20 2722.20 2722.20 2722.20 2722.20 2722.20 2722.20 2722.20
E-4 1758.90 1848.90 1949.10 2047.80 2135.10 2135.10 2135.10 2135.10 2135.10 2135.10 2135.10 2135.10 2135.10 2135.10 2135.10 2135.10 2135.10 2135.10 2135.10 2135.10 2135.10 2135.10
E-3 1587.90 1687.80 1789.80 1789.80 1789.80 1789.80 1789.80 1789.80 1789.80 1789.80 1789.80 1789.80 1789.80 1789.80 1789.80 1789.80 1789.80 1789.80 1789.80 1789.80 1789.80 1789.80
E-2 1509.90 1509.90 1509.90 1509.90 1509.90 1509.90 1509.90 1509.90 1509.90 1509.90 1509.90 1509.90 1509.90 1509.90 1509.90 1509.90 1509.90 1509.90 1509.90 1509.90 1509.90 1509.90
E-1 >4 Mon 1347.00 1347.00 1347.00 1347.00 1347.00 1347.00 1347.00 1347.00 1347.00 1347.00 1347.00 1347.00 1347.00 1347.00 1347.00 1347.00 1347.00 1347.00 1347.00 1347.00 1347.00 1347.00
E-1 <4 Mon 1245.90 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.00

It isn’t. You won’t get rich serving your country, but you can make a decent living. The basic pay tables shown only tell half the story. Remember, single soldiers are provided with housing, meals, medical care, dental care and other benefits free of charge. For married soldiers, either quarters for their families, or an allowance for housing are provided, plus an allowance for food. They too receive medical and dental and care for their dependents. Most of the benefits are not taxed. Plus, while serving in a combat zone, soldiers receive combat pay, and their basic pay is not taxed. Add in bonuses and other incentive pays and you can get by pretty nicely. It is not at all uncommon for fairly junior soldiers to own their own house and two cars. It is blue collar and lower middle class, but if you are careful with your money, you can do just fine.

10) Does the soldier serve their country or their chain of command?

Members of armed forces of the United States serve the Constitution. See the Oath of Enlistment:

“I, _____, do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God.” (Title 10, US Code; Act of 5 May 1960 replacing the wording first adopted in 1789, with amendment effective 5 October 1962).

A couple of notes on the Oath: While the oath references the President and officers appointed, note that the obeyance of orders is qualified by the regulations and the UCMJ. This goes back to your question about unlawful orders. A soldiers only sworn allegiance is to the Constitution, not to any man or office. And while the oath ends with the line “So help me God”, persons who for religious or other reasons cannot or will not swear may affirm and their oath is valid as well.

8 thoughts on “And the Moron answers…”

  1. I’ve got a few comments to add to the questions if you don’t mind…

    #1 – It’s worth remembering that other U.S. soldiers stopped the massacre at My Lai and that it was a soldier from the MP unit at Abu Ghraib that first reported the abuses. The incidents were already under investigation by the Army when CBS “broke” the story.

    #2 – I would agree that this is the best we can do right now. One of the Congresscritters who came up with DADT was quoted saying as much recently, also adding that in the near future it will probably be time to look at reevaluating the policy. Also worth considering that DADT was an improvement over the previous policy. It wasn’t like open homosexuals were allowed to serve prior to DADT.

    #4 – Two words: Red Dawn. :-p

    #9 – I would add an emphasis on the “but if you are careful with your money” part of your response. A fair amount of the sob stories you hear are of an E-3 with four kids or something similar, which is just piss poor planning.

    #10 – Figured I’d post the Oath of Office that officers swear, since there’s a subtle but important distinction between it and the Oath of Enlistment.

    I, [name], do solemnly swear, (or affirm,) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter. (So help me God.)

    There is no line in the Oath of Office about obeying the orders of those appointed over you, but there is a section about well and faithfully discharging the duties of your office. This illustrates the greater responsibility that officers have in determining and executing lawful actions and in maintaining control over their personnel.

  2. #1 Sgt Mom had an item awhile back (sorry, I can’t find the link) that handling #1 is an art – often asking for the order in writing works, but how one asks is the art form.

    #4 I just finished Mackesy’s The War For America (about our revolution, written by a british history professor) – he points out that at least in New England, behind every tree was a local farmer with a rifle and the British Regulars had an extremely difficult time. Excellent book that says a lot about the US experience since we became big and are fighting insurgencies. Does a lot to explain the context when the 2d Amendment was adopted.

  3. Thanks for the reply. I thought they’d be questions you might be looking for.

    1) As I see it It’s very difficult for people to do the right thing in situations like this including beyond the army.

    2) Obviously in my mind mind it’s dishonourable conduct of an official kind but I do well understand the reasons for it being the way it is. It sort of brings up an extended question but unfortunately it’s got nothing to do with the military so I’ll let it go.

    3) I don’t really know about such stories of Vietnam, over here the ones who came back are invisible to civilians. The only thing I know is they were not well treated when they returned, after that no idea. I do personally know of some ex army guys who are essentially non-functional through psych problems. There are not really that many but enough and these definitely have not been cared for and are probably amongst the most real bitter veterans I have talked to.

    Other people seem to do quite well, perhaps because of the better attitude drilled in.

    4) I’ve come across the US defending it’s own territory theme often in US culture and I think of it as a ‘fortress America’ viewpoint. Extended from that is one of the second amendment pro gun argument (an extension of the defend from internal aggressors argument) and I wondered how actually effective it would be. I guess the answer is fairly effective.

    What little I’ve read of the US civil war, it seemed to me General Lee was brilliant compared to his opponents and must have given the north a lot of headaches. I guess it shows that out producing and outnumbering is still very powerful.

    8) There’s a lot of examples of experimentation, some of which the US politic admit and some which are ignored or denied. I’m not saying they are all true. You bring up one of them. The only things I’m moderately sure of are various experiments with ABC warfare. Such as trailing new vaccines on small groups of soldiers, new drugs, new equipment, performance tests in nuclear test zones, stress/performance tests. These tests are usually done without permission or knowledge given to the involved soldiers. I know of one case directly where soldiers were given a trail broad spectrum anti-influenza drug.

    When I say trial here I mean that the drug has been untested on humans and is done on a rather small group of people. Often there is a placebo for another group as well for technical reasons.

    9) Uhm what does the table mean? I understand the ‘E’s but what’s the columns and what are the number units? I guess I view certain things as having different value.

    10) Ahh so the short answer is they serve the constitution. The long is they serve America only through the constitution and only through the orders of their chain of command. And officers have one of discharging duties of office in the same mode.

    I have another question. Since most officers would have already sworn to the first oath wouldn’t that mean they are obligated to both oaths then?

  4. As to the pay table, a E-1 with less than 4 months service is paid $1245.90 a month for his basic pay. As another example a Sergeant (E-5) with 10 years of service is paid $2570.70 per month. Again, not a ton of money, but enough.

    I suspect most of the uninformed testing took place a long time ago, or consists of medicine being tried in the combat zone, such as innovative techniques to treat infection and injury. Hey, medicine has to advance somehow. If you have info otherwise, I’d appreciate seeing it as that would be interesting.

    Most officers, in fact, have never enlisted so their first oath is the oath of office, often as a cadet. I did ask a JAG officer about that one time, however, and the reasoning he gave was that the enlistee was released from his oath upon discharge. Indeed, before reenlisting or accepting a commission, a soldier is discharged. I’ve got a small stack of discharges somewhere in my files. An officer is released from his oath upon discharge and the resignation of his commission, but not upon retirement.

  5. As an officer, I have taken both oaths. When you swear a new oath, that takes precedence over all preceding oaths – the new oath binds you to what is your new contract.

    Yes, the oath means we serve the Constitution, and via that law, we serve the people. After that, the UCMJ, which is Congress’ codification of the Laws of War and other regulations preceived as needful to the maintenance of good order and discipline. The UCMJ (Uniform Code of Military Justice, so-called because it replaced the separate systems that governed the Navy and Army prior thereto) lays out the requirements for obedience to lawful orders (always a qualifier) and those authorized to give them.

    So, I’ve got two documents, one derived from the other, that guide my relationship with my Superiors, Peers, and Subordinates, before we start getting to people. And note, the oath delineates an office, not a person. You’d be surprised how many military oaths around the globe are to a person, vice an office, or a document that codifies the basic law of the land and the social compact that established the legitimacy of the government.

    The “True Faith and Allegiance to the Same,” and will “Well and Faithfully dishcharge the duties of the office” have their root in Masonic oaths – and are essentially to require that you set aside all other allegiances – to include religious (a distrust of the Papacy driving that). In some respects quaint now, a real concern back in the day – both of religious issues *and* lingering loyalties to another polity, given the immigrant nature of the nation at it’s founding. You couldn’t swear service as an officer in our armed forces and then late say that a Papal Bull took precedence over something required by Congress or the President, or a refusal to fight someone because, well, say you were an immigrant from France and you were being sent to fight the French… while we might well try to avoid putting you in that situation, for many good reasons, in the final analysis, your oath compels you to fight – or take the consequences.

    And yes, it’s *always* hard to fight the illegal order. When I faced that situation as a young Captain, I both informed my immediate boss (not the source of the problem) and discussed it – he was willing to take up the fight, but, in truth, I was the one who needed to fight the fight. And I did – in the manner of asking for the order in writing, and having my senior rater (the guys who’s opinion on your evaluation *really* matters) throw me out of his office in a towering rage.

    But when the time came for an OER (evaluation) my boss wrote it in such a manner that the worst my senior rater could do to me was damn me with faint praise. Which he did. Which the reviewer noted the dichotomy between the two write-ups, causing my senior rater and rater to have to go explain the difference.

    Which resulted in me getting an average OER (survivable at the point in my career) and getting a new senior rater – the man who was the reviewer.

    But it was a risk. But my senior rater was asking me to essentially commit fraud, and at no risk to himself. When I asked for the written order, that changed the dynamic, and pissed him off, because in his little world, this was just the sort of “little work around” we all did as a part of our careers to get things done. Heh. It involved violating the regulations governing me duty as a contracting officer. He wanted me to put my career in jeopardy to buy some red cloth to use as map covers in the TOC (red being the color of Artillery, it would have been blue for an infantry TOC or yellow for an armor TOC). Heh. Probably about $20 worth. My honor hold to a higher value than that, I’m afraid.

  6. John, again, thanks for your invaluable insight. One thing one learns quickly in the Army is that you don’t have to know everything. You just have to know who knows!

  7. On that veterans issue, I was a civillian mental health clerk and did work with children. You think veterns have it bad, try civvies with mental health problems! We had to fight for benefits and a piece of the city or state budget pie. Often our clients were ignores as “those crazy people”.

    New Mexico has that old Mexican attitude of “mental illness is a curse from god”, so maybe it’s different in other places. But from what I have seen,the attitude is that if you have mental problems its your fault and you should be ashamed. Humans are prejudiced against physical handicaps regardless of where they come from that is why the Americans with Disabilities Act was passed. My wife is blind, she gets sh!t all the time.

    So call anti-war “Veteran’s” groups and peace activists (i.e. Code Pink) HATE the military. After Desert Storm, OIF I, Vietname etc. they never lifted a finger to help veterans.

    The Department of Defense? Their knee-jerk reactions could kill a horse. We get briefed on traumatic brain injury and PTSD (the army calls it post combat stress).

    Vets can now talk about not sleeping and having nightmares. Openly. When their was a practice for a brigade change of command, all the Iraq vets would flinch when they heard the cannons fire. Try that it work and your boss might start looking for reasons to fire you.

    btw, Tricare if forces to cover my wife because I am active duty. Civilian insurance providers can duck her by claiming blindness as a “pre-existing condition”.

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