Veterans Day

A tip of the hat and a thank you to URR, Craig, Phat*, Padre Dave and all you wonderful readers who know the pleasure, pride, and all too often, heartbreak, that comes with this simple statement**:

“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.”

I’m gonna head down to Applebee’s and have a steak.

*Phat promises he’s going to start contributing soon.

**Yes, I know the oath of officer for commissioned officers is slightly different.

SecArmy Guidance on Training for Extremist Organizations

We posted yesterday about allegations that predeployment training at Ft. Hood labelled membership or support of organizations such as the Tea Party or Evangelical Christian groups would be considered support of extremist organizations, and punishable under the UCMJ. There is a prohibition against supporting or being a member of an extremist organization. The concern is that politicization of the services has lead to membership in mainstream organizations and even churches suddenly being judged as forbidden.

The Army has denied that this is the policy, and has blamed individuals for poor judgment in preparing course material.  And in response, the Secretary of the Army has taken steps to ensure that doesn’t happen again.

[scribd id=178735502 key=key-1yg0hd9xp7dponhhks4w mode=scroll]

First, this is probably a good idea overall, even though we’re loathe to support centralization of training. But we are not entirely mollified. If, under this guidance, SecArmy is directing the training plans to be based on guidance from DEOMI, that raises the issue that DEOMI itself has been using the Southern Poverty Law Center as its subject matter expert on extremist groups.

SPLC has moved so far left politically over the past decades that virtually any organization more conservative than the Democratic National Committee is labeled as a hate group.

As an aside, this type of  training is the bane of commander’s existence.  One suspects strongly that much of this type of training, as well as Sexual Harassment and Assault Prevention (SHARP) and similar lectures are mandatory not because of any actual training benefit to the soldier or the command, but rather to show the Army is addressing the cries of outrage from the critics of the day about the crisis of the day. No one ever got better at killing the enemy by listening to a pogue drone on about ethics for an hour.

Prosecutorial Reachback

Back in 2008, Congress passed a law that allows federal prosecutors to  pursue cases against discharged servicemen who are alleged to have committed crimes under the UCMJ, and yet were discharged before any proceedings.

There’s some sound reasoning behind this. Let’s say a notional service member committed an offense while deployed, say murder of a foreign national, and yet managed to escape detection until he was beyond the reaches of military law. Absent an ability to try him in federal court, it’s conceivable he could get away with murder.

But here we have a case where a Marine either negligently discharged his weapon, or purposefully shot another American.

When the gun went off inside the trailer at a Marine outpost in Iraq in 2008, the bullet pierced the left temple of a Navy hospital corpsman who was seated on his cot, rupturing his left eye and exiting though his right cheek. He survived, but was left partly blind.

Wilfredo Santiago

A Marine corporal who was present, Wilfredo Santiago, then 23, first told the authorities that he had heard a shot but not that it came from his own gun. About a week later, he admitted to a Navy investigator that while unloading his weapon, it accidentally discharged, copies of his statements show.

“I froze for a moment,” Corporal Santiago said, adding that he looked at the corpsman and “saw blood begin to form on the left side of his face.”

Corporal Santiago said that the corpsman, who acted as a medic for their team of Marines, which was stationed at Camp Echo and periodically rotated to the outpost, had been a close friend, and that he “would never do anything to intentionally hurt him.” He regretted not coming forward sooner with the truth, he said, adding, “I was afraid, and did not know what to do.”

The military took no action against Corporal Santiago, who was honorably discharged some months later and now lives with his wife and child in the Bronx. But last January, federal prosecutors in Manhattan had him indicted on charges of assault resulting in serious bodily injury and of lying to military investigators, all stemming from the Jan. 26, 2008, shooting of the corpsman, Michael Carpeso.

At the time of his discharge,  no punitive measures were taken under the UCMJ, neither judicial nor non-judicial.*

I tend to believe the prosecution’s assertion that an administrative error lead to Santiago’s discharge without any punitive actions.  In my experience, a negligent discharge of any type is grounds for some adverse action, and certainly one which sees a fellow servicemember**  severely wounded and disabled.  My own negligent discharge of a blank round on a training mission lead to a Summarized Article 15 (5 days extra duty, in my case). And a friend who negligently discharged 7 rounds from an M249 SAW badly wounded two other soldiers. He was sent before a General Court Martial, and sentenced to 18 months, reduction to E-1, forfeiture of all pay and allowances, and a dishonorable discharge.***

But here’s the thing. The government had its shot at Santiago. It is not his fault that the Marines dropped the ball on flagging his records (preventing him from being discharged while under investigation) or otherwise meting out some punishment to him. It isn’t like the Marines didn’t know the incident had taken place.  The 2008 act by Congress was clearly not meant as a way for the state to get a second bite at the apple.

Further, a delay of five years from the incident certainly seems extreme.  The government has vast resources with which to locate and interview witnesses for the prosecution, but the defense rarely has more than the barest assets with which to merely review the government’s case, let alone locate and depose witnesses for the defense. Especially, in this case, when the unit interpreter, an Iraqi national, will likely prove quite difficult to locate, let alone bring to trial as a witness.

I’m all for the vigorous prosecution of wrongdoing. That’s a keystone of a stable democratic society. But I’m even more for the concept of a fair trial, in which the vast powers of the state are constrained, and laws intended for one purpose are not imaginatively applied by zealous prosecutors for entirely different reasons (RICCO, anyone?).

What say you?

*Punishment under Article 15 of the UCMJ is handled by the unit commander, and is non-judicial in nature. That is, while it has adverse administrative effects and is often the basis for separation from the service, it does not count as a conviction, unlike a court martial.

**The Navy provides medical services to the Marines, including attaching Hospitalmen to the Fleet Marine Forces as combat corpsmen. They wear Marine uniforms, and are generally accepted by the Marines in a way no other sailors are.

***Upon review by the convening authority, his sentence was commuted to 6 months, reduction in grade to E-1, and forfeiture of pay and allowances. I forget the exact nature of his discharge, but I do recall it wasn’t a Dishonorable.

I’m a survivor of sexual assault while in the military.

Honest.

Worse, the assault took place in full view of member of my chain of command, and my attacker faced absolutely no punitive actions, no Article 32 hearing,* court martial, or Non-Judicial Punishment. Not even a letter of reprimand.

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One of the top stories in the media these days is the horrific wave of sexual assault plaguing the services. The media has reported as many as 26,000 cases of sexual assault have occurred last year. Congress is convinced the services have a culture where rape and sexual assault are, if not encouraged, then at least tolerated to an extent that no civilized society can endure. Some members of the Senate have moved to withdraw sexual assault cases from the military, and have them adjudicated in civilian courts.  Other members of the Senate have said they could not advise their daughters to enlist or otherwise serve in the Armed Forces.  And such is the savagery of the epidemic, over half of the incidents of this onslaught are male on male.

So, why is it that the military is such a culture of rape, assault and degradation? Is every male soldier a rapist, just waiting for the opportunity to terrorize and scar emotionally and physically for life a young woman who only wanted to serve her country? Has a decade of war so dehumanized our troops that they no longer see even their fellow soldiers as worthy of the most basic human decency?

Maybe.

But probably not.

The military is and always has been, and always will be a reflection of the society it is recruited from.  If there is a cultural problem in the military, it is a reflection of a cultural problem in greater society.

There are cases of rape in the armed services. Far, far too many.

As a punitive article of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, Article 12o defines rape and sexual assault, and defines the punishments available to courts martial should they convict a service member.  The maximum punishment for rape is death.**

But Article 120 also lists an array of lesser included offenses. The specific definitions of each of these lesser included offenses is often fairly technical, in a legal sense, and may not always jibe with what the layman considers to be sexual assault.

And the Pentagon’s report of 26,000 incidents is being reported in a misleading manner. The survey was of a fairly small sample group, and extrapolated to cover the entire Armed Forces, and assumes a certain arbitrary rate of non-reported incidents.

Further, the survey didn’t ask if the respondents had been raped or sexually assaulted. It asked if they’d received any unwanted sexual contact. Any unwanted sexual contact could include leering and even being asked out on a date, behavior which in the real world is at worst considered sexual harassment, or just boorish behavior.

Yet agenda driven writers such as Marcotte at the Slate article above are quick to conflate that and lead the reader to believe that tens of thousands of men are being forcibly raped when all they want to do is serve their country.

The New York Times article she links to does manage to find  alleged victims of male on male rape- from the Vietnam era.

The NYT reports:

Many sexual assaults on men in the military seem to be a form of violent hazing or bullying, said Roger Canaff, a former New York State prosecutor who helped train prosecutors on the subject of military sexual assault for the Pentagon. “The acts seemed less sexually motivated than humiliation or torture-motivated,” he said.

There does seem to be a fair amount of unacceptable hazing and bullying going on in the ranks. But even the phrasing here would tend to lead the reader to think there is a level of malice present that personal experience tells me just isn’t that common.

Rick Lawson said that while he was in the Army National Guard in Washington in 2003 and 2004, he was repeatedly sexually bullied by a group of soldiers, including a sergeant who rubbed his groin into Mr. Lawson’s buttocks and jumped into his bunk and pretended to cuddle with him. Later, during preparations for deployment to Iraq, one sergeant handcuffed him and put him in a headlock while another pretended to sodomize him, Mr. Lawson said.

The brutal assault upon my person was very similar to one of these attacks.  In ranks, as I bent to pick up my rucksack, a fellow soldier grabbed me from behind and thrust his groin into by buttocks.

Of course, this was back in the dark, dark days of the Evil Reagan administration, and such heinous crimes were referred to as “grabass” and “horsing around.” Rather than having the incident referred to the chain of command and the military justice system, I simply kicked my assailant in the nuts and went back to work.

I’ll freely stipulate that the conduct Mr. Lawson refers to above is “conduct prejudicial to good order and discipline.” No Non Commissioned Officer should be playing grabass with junior enlisted. That’s what Specialists are for. And of course, there are always those who cross the line between horseplay and hazing. And that’s what a good NCO should be watching for, and maintaining that good order and discipline. Maybe having miscreants do pushups until the Sergeant gets tired is a better approach than convening a court martial?

And if Mr. Lawson was so truly traumatized by such an event, one wonders just how much worse the stress of actual combat would have been for him. Or, just perhaps, Mr. Lawson is finding an ex post facto claim for PTSD benefits. I don’t know.

There does seem to be an increase in genuine cases of sexual assault in the services. And that’s utterly unacceptable. But the histrionics coming from the usual suspects is counterproductive to actually addressing the issue.

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*Roughly the equivalent of a grand jury in civilian law.

**As a practical matter, the Supreme Court has ruled that the death penalty can only be imposed for murder, so the real maximum punishment is life imprisonment.

Hey, First Sergeant…

If you’re going to send an email to your troops about the Army social media policy, and how your troops don’t seem to understand it, you might want to make sure YOU have a clear understanding.

Earlier today, a disgruntled member of an Alabama Army National Guard unit forwarded the e-mail below from a first sergeant outlining the do’s and don’t of social media with the subject line, “Troops 1st Amendment Rights being denied.”

The email cautions troops to steer clear of posts about “gun control, the Democrats, the President, Congress, or personal opinions about STATE or FEDERAL GOVERNMENT matters.”

First, you’re the 1SG of an Alabama Army National Guard unit. Unless your unit has been Title 10 federalized, your troops don’t fall under UCMJ.

Second, while soldiers on social media DO represent the Army, the policy does not prohibit any of the topics you specified.

From the Army Social Media Handbook 2013:

However, Soldiers are subject to UCMJ even when off duty, so talking negatively about supervisors or releasing sensitive information is punishable under the UCMJ.

If these NG troops were under UCMJ, it would be inappropriate for them to publicly post that 1SG (Redacted) was a censorious twit who couldn’t read the policy without moving his lips.  But those troops have every right to comment on the topics that interest them. Provided they adhere to OPSEC, they still retain their 1st Amendment Rights.

Maybe Top should have spent more time listening to the training, and less time worrying about reflective belts.