By Rebecca Frankel
Best Defense Chief Canine Correspondent
Always Faithful, a documentary film that traces the path of five Marine dog handlers from their training through to their deployments, will premiere this Sunday in the greater DC area as part of the 2013 GI Film Festival.
With this feature-length documentary, director Harris Done and producer James Moll, focus on each handler's story with a straight-to-the-camera interview style that includes photos and footage from combat theater. One of the most interesting aspects about this documentary that I haven't seen delved into in great detail elsewhere is the application process for becoming a handler. It has varied based on the "urgent need" for handlers in recent years, but becoming a Marine Corps dog handler is a distinctly competitive pursuit. At the end of the test taking and the essay writing, the Marines applying for this job have to face a review board -- a daunting and nerve-wracking experience which Done has captured on film.
Done has long been a war-dog enthusiast. In 2009 he made War Dogs of the Pacific, a documentary about WWII military dog handlers. (In this trailer you get a taste of the great archival footage.) The timing of this film was crucial as all but one or two of the WWII veterans he interviewed have since passed away. Done's ties to these men clearly ran deep; when Bruce Wellington, a Brooklyn native who served as a messenger dog handler, died, Done gave a eulogy at the funeral. It was that connection which propelled him to pursue the storyline of the "war-dog handler" into modern day.
It's a rare experience to have interviewed K9 handlers across generations as Done has -- men who went to war in the 1940s as well as men and women who served in Iraq and Afghanistan during the last decade. But when it comes to the core of this job, Done found that "some things never change."
After a while Done began to notice that all the handlers he interviewed "would use the exact same phrases" when they talked about what it took to bring a dog into war. "I just realized that with any kind of working dog, they have that intense bond."
DC moviegoers can purchase tickets here. (There are multiple listings for Sunday show times, so don't give up if you have to scroll down some.) For everyone else, Always Faithful will soon be available for purchase on iTunes.
Rebecca Frankel is away from her FP desk, working on a book about dogs and war.
By Capt. John Byron, U.S. Navy (Ret.)
Best Defense department of officers and gentlemen
It's a tough competition, the contest for the military's most egregious example of conduct unbecoming. All fiction entries are likely to be rejected: You just can't make up tales as lurid and stupid as we've seen in real life.
My list of the leading entries (some not widely known) is included below, true tales that are the gold standard for abuse of privilege and sexual misconduct by military men in leadership (and missionary?) positions.
I'm sure many other like these could come to mind and that the future holds still more titillation and stupidity. But we now have before us what seems to me the winner for the ages: The worst case of conduct unbecoming an officer, of dishonorable behavior, of simple wrong behavior by an officer in authority that ever we're likely to find. And the case illustrates not only how far from honor an officer can move himself, but also how incredibly tone deaf is the military system, unable to find the correct answer in situations where an officer judged useful for professional skills is given a bye on a matter directly challenging his honesty and trustworthiness in a position of authority in our nation's military.
Here's the story. A civilian academic with a Ph.D. in physical oceanography and a distinguished career falls in love with a senior Navy officer holding command of a warship. Perhaps some naiveté involved, but clearly an affair of the heart on the woman's side. It's permanent. They get engaged. They will be married. He says his next duty station will be Guam and so at his insistence she leaves the mainland and moves there for a life together, taking an administrative post at the University of Guam.
Then, having turned her life upside down for this man, she finds out that her hero has rejected her and hung her out to dry. Her soulmate is not coming to Guam. He's dumping her. Too, it turns out: He's also got elsewhere a second girlfriend he's been deeply entangled with (and engaged to), another female he's deceived and he had just discarded her in the same disgraceful way. In short, he is an equal-opportunity cad, dishonorable in his treatment of both women and at the same time.
The first woman is devastated (the second, too, but this is not her story). Right away she goes to the officer's chain of command and to the DOD inspector general asking if this is approved conduct...and they gaff her off. She then hires an attorney and they contact both the head of this coward's warfare community and the chief of naval operations. And they gaff her off too.
And then she does something of incredible courage: She documents the tale in a lengthy letter published in the Spring 2013 issue of Naval War College Review on page 133. She and the editors take pains to avoid disclosing the miscreant's name or even his warfare community, but the use of "boat" to describe his command, the length of his command tour, and absence of any senior jobs on Guam for aviators or surface warfare officers pretty much lets the cat out of the sack: He serves in the submarine force (I have other confirmation also).
Is she credible? I've corresponded with her and find she is, a tough, smart professional paying a personal price for falling in love and trusting an officer to be a gentleman. The editors at the Review did their due diligence as well and they put their journal's reputation behind this person's truthfulness.
The wronged woman claims she's not seeking revenge and the facts bear this out. Instead, citing Captain Mark Light's great study of the topic, she wonders if in matters of sexual conduct, the Navy even cares about honor and honesty and proper ethical behavior, and if so, why does the system have an officer of such low character still on active duty and moving forward in his career.
I have the same questions, a challenge to the CNO and the secretary of the Navy to answer why such a moral midget remains a commissioned officer in good standing, and to the leaders of the submarine force on why it continues to retain and advance officers like this dirtbag.
Fairness requires opportunity for the harming party to have his say, to explain why he thinks it OK for a Navy officer to lie and cheat and devastate two innocent women...and still wear a cover with a gold chinstrap. It's open-mike time, buddy: Post here why you did what you did and why you're still a wonderful guy.
A final note. Fellows, let's not screw this up with in-blog towel-snapping that makes a joke of a sad situation. We habitués of this blog are a great group, funny, clever, and deeply interested in our nation's defense. But at times we do get a bit frisky in our comments. In this case I ask you to respect the courage and honesty of our heroine and leave off attacking her or commenting unfavorably on her conduct. Her personal and professional lives have suffered great harm at the hands of a despicable officer -- she deserves respect and praise for the classy way she found the high road to seek redress. Frankly, I find her most admirable.
And I am appalled at her treatment by a fellow submariner.
This is a rare opportunity to look hard at how the military services deal with matters of honor. It stands on its own and deserves direct answer from the system. In the Uniform Code of Military Justice, Article 133 proscribes conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman. If this ain't that, the law is meaningless.
Some goodies from the past:
- The captain of a major surface ship caught in his in-port cabin doing the deed with a junior enlisted female while underway.
- The overseas rear admiral dismissed from service for his weird and repeated stalking of an enlisted dental tech he became fixated on after she'd cleaned his teeth.
- The second admiral fired from another high visibility overseas post for cavorting with a junior officer under him (tee hee).
- The chief petty officer relieved of his duties after he drunkenly tried to grope a civilian stranger in the seat next to him all the way across the Pacific on a commercial flight.
- The flag-bound submariner of fantastic promise who got off track after telling his immediate superior that he'd ended his affair with the female lieutenant on their staff -- and then got caught by that same senior canoodling with the lieutenant on the golf course.
- The two captains stationed in the Med who got sacked because of Navy's puritanical standards finding disfavor with them for openly swapping wives.
- The admiral in charge of Navy recruiting fired when he was found boffing the wife of one of his recruiter-of-the-year finalists in the hotel parking garage as the ceremony was being held.
- The flag-bound O-6 engineering-duty officer with a Ph.D. arrested as the Burke Lake Flasher.
Moving to more recent times,
- The submarine skipper who lasted only seven days in command, fired for having a pregnant 23-year old mistress who he misled with fantastic tales of daring-do on secret assignment and then faking his own death.
- The 33 Air Force drill instructors undergoing courts martial for using their female recruits as sexual pawns.
- The Air Force general in trouble for mindlessly dismissing all charges against an officer convicted in the military justice system of raw sexual harassment of a junior.
- The other Air Force general who downgraded a likewise valid sexual misconduct conviction after magically determining on no apparent basis that the abused was less credible than the accused and to hell with the due process that said otherwise.
- Yet another submarine skipper recently relieved for inappropriate intimate relations with a junior.
- May 2013: the Air Force lieutenant colonel in charge of that service's Sexual Assault Prevention and Response unit...until his arrest for drunkenly groping a women -- total stranger -- in a parking lot (see: you can't make this up).
- And this just in: The DOD study estimating that last year 26,000 service personnel were victims of "unwanted sexual contact" from fellow servicemembers, a 35 percent increase from the year before and a situation egregious enough to infuriate the Commander In Chief.
Winston Churchill, writing in My Early Life, mentions how wealth affected one's choice of branches in the British Army:
I qualified for a cavalry cadetship at Sandhurst. The competition for the infantry was keener, as life in the cavalry was so much more expensive. Those who were at the bottom of the list accordingly were offered the easier entry into the cavalry.
Tom again: So, by making the cavalry expensive, the wealthy aristocracy was able to reserve largely for itself job openings in part of the military -- perhaps a place to store second sons without sufficient brains for other jobs? I asked Douglas Allen, an economic historian who has studied the political economy of the British military. He wrote back, "No doubt though, it took a long time for the aristocrats to be replaced by attrition, and they probably did use a price mechanism to keep the vulgar middle class out of their preferred positions."
I was on riding the Washington, DC Metro finishing the May issue of the Marine Corps Gazette when I realized I had not read more than a paragraph or two into any of the articles. Part of the problem was that the topics of the issue were mainly aviation and cyberwar, which I know are important, but are not special interests of mine. But I also got the feeling that they simply took every boring article they had lying around and stuffed them all into one issue.
Even so, the Gazette is better off than the Army's Parameters, which doesn't seem to have put out an issue since "Autumn 2012." Maybe it's going to publish only on an annual basis. Nice work if you can get it.
My CNAS colleague Phil Carter, reacting to yesterday's item about how the experience of Iraq is affecting the Obama administration's consideration of intervening in Syria, sent me this thoughtful note:
Iraq has replaced Vietnam as the lens through which we see foreign policy decisions. However, I don't like the term "Iraq syndrome" -- in large part because it suggests there's something wrong, and that this is a condition to be ameliorated or recovered from. Instead, I prefer to think of our national sense of the Iraq war as "Iraq experience" or "Iraq wisdom." We gathered this experience and wisdom the hard way, acquiring it at a cost of trillions of dollars, and tens of thousands of killed or wounded, to say nothing of the cost to the Iraqis. We ought not casually discard this wisdom and experience, or set it aside so that we can once again go abroad in search of monsters to destroy, to use John Quincy Adams' memorable phrase.
Tom again: I think he is right, but I think there also is a generational aspect to this. I think younger people -- and to me, that means anyone under 40 -- are more affected by this than are older people.
One of the great things about CNAS is that we actually have conversations like this. In my experience, not all think tanks do. You can find out more by coming to the annual hoedown on June 12. It is, as we have noted, the Woodstock of wonkery. But with better refreshments.
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
This isn't the Air Force's week. First, its sexual assault prevention czar earns a negative congressional unit citation for alleged sexual battery. Now the AP's Robert Burns reports that the service sidelined 17 nuclear launch officers essentially for sucking at their jobs.
Which raises the question in my mind: Which is the worse job, being a missile officer these days, or being a sexual harassment officer? And can you imagine being the sexual assault officer in a missile unit in North Dakota?
More seriously, the estimable Burns quotes Bruce Blair, a nuclear weapons expert, as warning that, "The nuclear air force is suffering from a deep malaise caused by the declining relevance of their mission since the Cold War's end over 20 years ago....Minuteman launch crews have long been marginalized and demoralized by the fact that the Air Force's culture and fast-track careers revolve around flying planes, not sitting in underground bunkers baby-sitting nuclear-armed missiles."
Can you imagine a nuclear attack being launched simply because a unit was so incompetent that someone hit the wrong buttons and codes? No? Well, how about a bomber crew flying across the United States without being aware it was carrying nuclear weapons? (That happened in 2007.)
Darren McCollester/Getty Images
Quote of the day: Benjamin Rhodes, the deputy national security advisor, tells Dexter Filkins in this week's edition of the New Yorker that in considering intervening in Syria, "Here's what we wrestle with: there are huge costs and unintended consequences that go with a military intervention that could last for many years."
Another White House official tells Filkins, "The country is exhausted." I don't think that second comment is quite accurate. It is more that the country is tired of being involved on the ground in the Middle East and deeply skeptical of the efficacy of another try.
Filkins also quotes an academic expert who predicts that eventually all of Syria's Alawites will be pushed into Lebanon, with the eventual refugee flow doubling that nationette's population.
The vibe of the article is that the Obama administration increasingly is leaning toward intervention -- from the air, in aid and intelligence, but not with ground troops.
JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images
Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military for the Washington Post from 2000 through 2008.