A former Marine Drill Instructor was protesting outside the gate of MCRD Parris Island. Unhappy with the Bergdahl swap for five senior Taliban detainees, Ethan Arguello, wearing his old campaign hat, the longtime symbol of Drill Instructors, was off post during the protest.
Sergeant Major Paul Archie, the senior Noncommissioned Officer on the depot, verbally confronted Arguello. That in itself was, in my opinion, poor judgment. Worse still, Sergeant Major Archie allowed the verbal confrontation to escalate to the point where he made physical contact with Arguello’s campaign hat, knocking it from Arguello’s head. As it fell, Sergeant Major Archie snatched the hat, climbed into his vehicle, and proceeded onto the depot.
As a result of this incident, Sergeant Major Archie has tendered his resignation as the senior NCO, and apparently requested retirement. It is a sad end to what surely has been a distinguished career spanning decades.
And it is absolutely the right outcome.
It’s sometimes said the Air Force is a job, the Navy and the Army are services, and the Marine Corps is a religion. There’s no small amount of truth in that. I can sympathize with Sergeant Major Archie being upset that a civilian is using a symbol rich with meaning to make a political protest.
But the Sergeant Major apparently forgot, if only momentarily, that the first loyalty of a servicemember, any servicemember, is to the Constitution, not the Corps. Mr. Aguello, whatever you may think of him, was engaging in constitutionally protected p0litical speech. You can agree with him, disagree with him, criticize his tactics, but you cannot argue that he should have been stopped by a member of the military that exists to protect that very right to freedom of speech.
Sergeant Major Archie still has to face the civilian justice system. One hopes such a minor incident will not have extensive consequences for him.
As for his career in the Marine Corps, such a lapse in judgment certainly calls for his removal as the senior enlisted advisor to the Commanding General. Sadly, at the echelon of service, there are few other places Sergeant Major Archie could continue to serve in any meaningful way. That leaves retirement as virtually the only option. And one hopes that the Sergeant Major’s chain of command will not feel a need to further pursue the matter via Non-Judicial Punishment or other adverse actions.