By Capt. Nick Nethery
Best Defense guest columnist
I'm wondering if the massive increase in sexual assaults over the last few years is similar to the massive increase in suicides in the same period. And I'm wondering if the response to this problem might be similarly ineffective.
Suicides go up for a number of reasons, but rather than address those reasons, we stick a band-aid on a sucking chest wound by reducing it to a powerpoint slideshow and a video introduced by a sergeant major or general. In light of hard data showing increased suicides at the exact same time as requirements on commanders to administer these prevention classes have surged, is it possible that the classes are exacerbating the problem?
I don't mean to imply that the classes themselves cause suicides, but are leaders falling into the trap of thinking that the problem is solved because the brief has been given? That if you force your soldiers to sit through the brief, then you've "done your part" and no further action is required?
Might it be the same with sexual harassment and assault? Are leaders "checking the block" by administering these classes, choosing to believe their command is safe afterward, rather than addressing the underlying issues behind a rise in harassment and assault? I am no psychologist or sex abuse counselor, but I am a leader who tried to care about my soldiers when I had the fortune to lead them. During my time in command, I was skeptical of the Army's solution to this problem. I took a more dynamic approach. I knew all my soldiers, their families, their birthdays, their kids' names, what their goals and aspirations were, what kind of music and beer and cars they liked. I had male and female soldiers, of all ages and backgrounds. Not to be too sappy, but we were family. And you know what? We never had any of these problems.
Again, I just see my little lane. I'm no general. But I realized the limitations of the Army's answer to suicide prevention and sexual assault, and took a more active approach, one where I knew my soldiers down to the tiniest detail. I trusted them -- and showed them I did -- and they trusted me. I don't flatter myself that all my soldiers liked me. I didn't have perfect commands, and we had some other minor discipline issues, but in four years leading soldiers I never had a single incident of suicide, suicidal ideation, or sexual harassment/assault. It worked for me. My own bosses saw that my method worked, and were supportive as long as I was meeting the Army's required training guidelines.
Capt. Nick Nethery commanded the 737th and 722d EOD Companies, both at Ft. Bragg, and took 722d to Iraq from May 2011 to June 2012. This article represents his own views and are not necessarily those of the U.S. Army or the Department of Defense.
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.
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.)
"The Chief of the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response branch of the U.S. Air Force was arrested and charged with sexual battery in Arlington over the weekend."
As several e-mailers noted yesterday, you can't make this stuff up.
U.S. Air Force/Arlington County Police
Well, there had been some warning signs: Just over a decade ago he was charged with showing his homemade porn to cadets, but got off for lack of evidence, even though his voice could be heard on the tape saying "get her while she's drunk." The camera was hidden inside a "stuffed bear," according to the Edmonton Sun.
Meanwhile, in the last refuge of scoundrels department, an Ohio woman named Cari Johnson, who raised charity money via the "First Annual Patriotic Freedom Ride" last year, was found to have used some of the donated money at liquor stores. She'll pay a $20,000 fine.
(HT to MY)
By Col. Margaret Cope, USAF (Ret.)
Best Defense guest columnist
After serving 30 years in the Air Force, I am passionate about our country providing the opportunity for young men and women to serve. Since the draft ended, the American public has become disconnected from the men and women in the military.
Even our former secretary of defense Robert Gates stated that our citizens view our wars as an "abstraction" that does not affect them personally. After 9/11 our country missed an enormous opportunity to engage the citizenry, particularly folks in the 18-26 age range who are beginning their adult lives and have the ability to contribute the rest of their lives.
Our country has a democratic form of government, which by definition is a participatory government, not a spectator government. All citizens must be engaged or we risk losing our democracy. Our founding fathers believed all would participate as stated by George Washington, "It may be laid down as a primary position, and the basis of our system, that every Citizen who enjoys the protection of a free Government, owes not only a proportion of his property, but even of his personal services to the defense of it."
Currently less than 1 percent of Americans serve in our military. The rest of the population -- 99 percent, for the most part -- is unaware of the military. Although other forms of national service exist, with the budget constraints, now is the time to consolidate and provide more structured, safer, and meaningful opportunities.
My concept of the national service framework is comprehensive and bold; it's not for those who like small steps and fear transformative, big ideas. National Service will be voluntary and must include the military -- the most committed, professional, well-trained example of national service.
This framework is based on voluntary participation and provides a menu of opportunities for citizens between the ages of 18-26 to serve. All volunteers will serve a minimum of two years and will receive lodging, uniforms, healthcare and food allowances, stipends, and upon completion of their term of service, numerous government incentives tied to performance, to include at least an education debt reduction or an education allowance similar to the GI Bill and other options to support the national service mission, its culture. Libertarians who don't want to serve would be ineligible for some government incentives including student loans, to be given upon completion of the term of service.
National Service will be the umbrella organization for the entire enterprise with the pillars being: the military, which would include recruitment, orientation training, and upon completion of service, the same national service benefits along with military benefits; the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) organizations including Americorps, VISTA, Equal Justice Works, Teach for America, and Children's Corps; the Peace Corps; a revival of the Civilian Conservation Corps; a medical corps; a legal corps (move Equal Justice Works from CNCS); an administrative corps; a cybersecurity corps; and others. All of these functions could support our military and serve on military reservations.
As a nation, we cannot underestimate the importance in a moral democracy to serve. We must engage our greatest resource, our young citizens, to serve others and uphold our democratic principles to attain opportunity and inspire hope.
Margaret Cope, a retired U.S. Air Force logistics colonel, serves on the Executive Committee at the Reserve Officers Association (ROA), consults, and is a former senior advisor at the Project on National Security Reform (PNSR).
By Brig. Gen. Kim Field, U.S. Army
Best Defense guest columnist
As a general officer and a mother of four sons, I still look back on our entry into the Iraq War with disbelief. There may have been good reason, but explanations to date satisfy almost no one. I deployed three times to Afghanistan and better understood our entry, even if the prosecution of our effort became increasingly baffling. I am dismayed that my sons are learning in school to lump the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq into the same causal bucket. What are they learning about who America is, what we stand for, why we do what we do?
Recently, there was an article in the New York Times about the split in the Republican Party on the appropriate foreign policy stance for America. To oversimplify, isolationists are warring with the traditional aggressive foreign policy advocates under the same tent. Further, the article was a bit shocking in that foreign policy was equated with use of the military instrument. How can any of this be?
The Democratic Party is a little more coherent, but I am not sure that there is agreement with Jimmy Carter's statement: "Human rights is the soul of our foreign policy, because human rights is the very soul of our sense of nationhood." Right or wrong, under Democratic leadership, we have done almost nothing in Syria to protect human rights. Is "human rights" the most important thing to our country and is this how we should represent ourselves to the world?
Inside the Pentagon, I watch and in some cases participate as we wrangle over the "rebalance to the Pacific." Should the military really be the agency doing the most in what was a reasonable shift in strategic emphasis? Maybe, but the explanations why are not satisfying and Air-Sea Battle is downright mystifying. Do we intend to "contain" China, and if so, do we mean militarily, economically, in the information domain? Or do we want to "shape her decisions?" Something else? These are very different paths with significant consequence, and to my mind, we should have the answers before we charge off, possibly committing billions of dollars.
What do we stand for? Many of us think domestic policies are likely on an inevitable path toward a more European model of capitalism-social consciousness and think our choices with regard to international matters are indeed more free and more significant. But watching the machinations of the Congress over forced across-the-board cuts (sequestration), feeling confident that DOD could take a cut but not the way we are forced to do it, it is clear that this problem of identity is foundational to all dimensions of what we do as a country.
As a soldier, I have nothing to say about wither our foreign policy endeavors. But I sure wish I understood better what we could be asked to do and why. How is the military to represent itself overseas when our muddled sense of American identity is reflected in so many testy issues, beyond the normal and healthy tensions of party politics?
Having taught international relations theory for three years, I do believe when the strength of our values coincides with the level of our national interest, we have the makings of good, sustainable foreign interventions. But this means understanding what our values are, who we are as Americans. Do we still believe in American exceptionalism? If so, why? What makes us exceptional a decade into the 21st century? We should be specific and clear about this in a necessary debate.
Just as senior military officers should be professionally guided by the conviction of clear personal values and not just the Army Values dogtag around their necks, it is insufficient for the collective American people to point to the Constitution as a clear, present day expression of who we are. The base case is there, but it's not always helpful in execution. Sacrilege.
It will be very difficult to avoid diving into the issues of immigration and healthcare and countless other issues through which party divides run deep. And a Congress that makes DOD accept compensations it doesn't ask for even when that means we reduce the training that will keep soldiers alive in the future, a Congress that makes us buy equipment we don't want beyond that which keeps the industrial base warm, can't lead this effort. The Congress is full of smart, well-intentioned individuals held captive by a system that cannot help us produce a sense of identity that would then enable meaningful party debates over how to make that identity come alive. The president is a party member. He can't lead this either, no matter how good a leader he is.
I believe the American people want this discussion. I do not believe the military has the market on service. I do not believe the average American values his or her Nikes and iPhones more than they do a conversation over what it means to be an American. My sister-teacher, as well as good friends Paul Yingling and John Nagl, who have chosen to leave the world of security affairs for the profession of teaching, will be part of this debate, as will their students. My father and his senior friends who have time, interest, and continued desire to serve, will be part of this. My boys and nieces and their classmates, all of whom had to complete community service on the path to college, will be part of this. Servicemembers will be part of this as long as the issues do not become partisan. And so many more from so many other walks of American life. I am tired of hearing that Americans need the most important of issues dumbed down, that we simply don't care about anything that does not directly affect the material goods that come into our homes. I don't believe it. In fact, I can't even contemplate the possibility of leaving my boys without a mother for years, or forever, if this were the case.
I am so honored to serve the way I do -- representing a people that comprise a country of goodness the world has never before seen. We have to stop the recent wandering that has confused so many inside our ranks, within our borders, and throughout the world. As we bring the face of America home after 12 years of steady war and before we inevitably send it out again, greater clarity on the question, "who are we, we Americans?" is essential.
BG Kim Field is deputy director of policy, plans and strategy on the Army staff. She has served three tours in Afghanistan, two tours with State, and taught international relations in the "Sosh" Department at West Point.
A friend writes that he "smells a rat" in the recent relief of the commander of the Marine Officer Candidate School at Quantico, Virginia.
"You are responsible for what goes on inside your unit," the Marine commandant said in explaining the removal of Col. Stillings. "Period."
Oh? wonders my friend. If that is the standard, he notes, it begs the question of why there has not been a Marine general relieved in many moons. On General Amos' watch as commandant, he observes, "the Marine Corps has seen Marines urinating on Taliban bodies, scout snipers posing with an SS flag, a sexual assault pandemic that the Commandant himself has described as ‘incompatible with our core values of honor, courage and commitment,' rising suicide rates, the catastrophic Camp Bastion attack, and the hazing-cum-suicide of Lance Corporal Harry Lew." So, he asks, "If 2.5 bad happenings were enough to soul-crush Colonel Stillings, what is the magic number which would cause a service chief to resign?"
Yesterday I was reading a paper on the future of the Marine Corps that bothered me because I thought it didn't ask tough enough questions. So I asked myself, What would those questions be?
This is what I wrote down:
By "One Gone Cat"
Best Defense guest columnist
I thought of offering to write an essay for you that gave my own reasons or that made my own arguments for how the officer corps can be improved to retain the best and the brightest, but thinking about it just made me angry. It made me angry because I knew it would not make any difference, just as the countless opinion pieces written by disgruntled junior officers and NCOs or concerned senior officers and NCOs won't make any difference. The military is too inflexible, the senior officers are too comfortable with the status quo, human resources command believes too strongly in whatever crazy algorithm they have determining entry assignments, and the civilian leadership is too intimidated by a bunch of men who just lost two wars to force a change.
Writing about my experience won't make a difference because senior leaders will look at it and say that it's an anomaly, or that I don't have the ability yet to see the big picture, or that I cannot reflect and see how things actually work very well, or maybe that I got the career I deserved based on my abilities. I understand that they cannot understand me, because I don't understand them.
Sorry for the rant. I had to get it out there. You seem like the right person to send it to, since my mentors wouldn't appreciate the tone very much. It probably figures that a bunch of guys trained in an Army that didn't want to admit it lost Vietnam are pretty schooled in the art of self-delusion. But I became an Army officer because I wanted to be among the best, not because I wanted to be part of a group so adept at making excuses and criticizing anyone who doesn't want to stay in for the glorious pension at the end of the rainbow of mediocrity.
"One Gone Cat" is, for a bit longer, a U.S. Army officer. But guess what? The views presented here are his own and do not necessarily represent those of the U.S. Army or the Defense Department.
By "A Happy Camper"
Best Defense guest columnist
I am an Army captain with five years of service, married to a brilliant young woman.
Ideally, we would live downtown in a vibrant metropolis where we can walk or take public transit everywhere; my work would involve developing some sort of deep technical expertise in furtherance of national security, and my wife would be able to climb the ladder of her own lucrative career. Of course we'd also like to retain my current salary relative to our cost of living, my 30 days of annual leave, numerous four-day weekends, paid-for educational opportunities, as well as the option to collect a pension and virtually free healthcare for life after just 20 years.
Although reality falls short of our dreams, it's still pretty good. My wife got into teaching after we married because of its "portability," and the Army, to its credit, paid for her certification program through MyCAA. Teaching pays less than she might have earned otherwise with her education, and there will be frustrations as we move around (transferring her license, gaps in employment, leaving before vesting in any retirement plan), but she was hired immediately by the school district here and given good opportunities for professional development. As for my own work, I hope to find some greater depth and specialization by moving into a certain functional area. We can't put down roots in a big city yet, but I can choose to attend graduate school in one, and we could be assigned to Washington, DC at some point. Finally, when I add up the total compensation for 20 years of service -- salary, pension (assuming we survive to average life expectancy), healthcare, undergraduate, graduate, and professional education -- it comes to about $5 million (adjusted to 2013 dollars). That's $250,000 per year in uniform, with several of those years spent as a student in flight school, CCC, ILE, graduate school, etc.
I believe that I'd be competitive for civilian jobs with my STEM degree from a top-50 university, and many complaints about the Army definitely resonate with me, but it seems unrealistic to expect a much better deal than we're already getting. So for now I'm one junior officer that actually plans to stay in. That said, I value my marriage above all else; if my wife gave me an ultimatum because she wanted a high-powered career in big law or finance, or because she couldn't handle another deployment, I would choose to leave too.
I've been seeing a lot of blimpish comments about how today's younger officers need to pull up their socks and adjust. But a major difference is that wives 50 years ago typically didn't arrive at Camp Swampy with a huge law school debt.
I am a lawyer married to my high school sweetheart whose dream was always to join the military. I've known about his Army aspirations almost as long as I've known him and he has known about my dream to become a lawyer. I just never dreamed it would be this difficult to find any kind of work that requires a degree. I even was hired to work for JAG the summer between law school years as a GS 7. Now that I actually have a degree and a license, I cannot even get an interview for ANY federal job, let alone a legal one. I am not whining, because I chose this life when I chose my husband. But, it's a sad state of affairs for anyone who graduates with a law degree from a top school in the top 15 percent of her class to have to settle for an $8 an hour receptionist position. I wouldn't lose as much sleep over it if I wasn't over $200K in debt from law school.
I'm incredibly proud of my husband's career and accomplishments. He loves serving our country and I have loved supporting him through training and two deployments. But our future is uncertain, and everyday I pray that I find an opportunity that will give me a chance at a professional life of my own. I have sacrificed and invested in my own future as well and I just want to put my skills to use and earn a living.
The January-March issue of ARMOR magazine offers an article provocatively titled "How to Eat Steak with a Knife and Fork! A Return to the Core Competencies That Make Our Maneuver Force Indomitable."
Let's call it "HTESWAKAF" for short.
I am all for being competent. But I also am for winning our wars. I worry that we are not trying to do both. In other words, is the new emphasis on "core competencies" a way of turning away from the lessons of the last 12 years of our wars? Like, what if the enemy isn't serving steak?
Overall, I am a bit puzzled by such a focus on tactical abilities, because I think our biggest flaws in the post-9/11 wars have been strategic, with generals neither able to recognize the nature of their conflicts or to adjust to them. Yet I see little work being done there. And one lesson of Iraq 2003-06 was that good tactics won't fix bad strategy.
By Capt. Troy Peterson, U.S. Army
Best Defense guest husband
I'm at my 5-year point (initial commissioning obligation complete) and although I've signed up for ~3 more years, my desire for an Army career is being seriously challenged by the Army's career progression model and the inherent difficulty in supporting my wife's career. The lack of self-determination needed to coordinate our careers is a major problem for us, and this concern seems to be growing in the younger generation in the Army.
Like the Marine's wife in your most recent post on this topic, my wife is a true professional and a career woman. She's worked on Capitol Hill, worked abroad for the U.S. government, and now she's getting her master's degree from an Ivy League school (while we live apart for a couple years) -- all so she can continue to work in the public sector and we can both stay true to the ideals that mean so much to us.
Many of my peers face this situation; married to an educated, professional spouse who can't just pick up every 2 or 3 years to relocate to wherever the Army decides we should be, and continue their own meaningful professional career. It's a fact of life that opportunities vary with location -- Fayetteville, NC, and Columbus, GA, don't have the same job prospects as DC or New York. We don't expect the Army or anyone else to change that. I want nothing more than to continue my Army career, but if I have to, I'll find another way to continue serving my country and my ideals while allowing my wife to do something she finds professionally significant.
From the Army's perspective, this issue is a major part of the larger concerns about career satisfaction, retaining talented and strong performers, and competing with other professions for talent. My question is this: If the Army can have a great program for dual-Army career couples, why can't we also be more accommodating of dual-career couples who happen not to both wear ACUs?
My wife's "civilian" status doesn't mean her desire for a career of service is any less valid. Instead, the rigid career progression and lack of self-determination are forcing me to consider leaving the military entirely in order to preserve my marriage. However, the Army can adjust to prevent this stark decision from being a reality for many families. I've seen many couples get good results from the Married Army Couples Program. The answer for the rest of us isn't another, bigger Army program, but instead to reform the rigid career tracks and allow greater personal autonomy in job selection and relocation. Enabling individual initiative and greater personal control would facilitate dual-career couples achieving greater satisfaction, prevent us from facing a decision to leave the force just to preserve our families, and allow the Army to better retain what we so often say is our most precious resource -- our people.
CPT Troy Peterson is an infantry officer stationed at Ft. Benning. He served previously in the Second Cavalry Regiment in Vilseck, Germany and Zabul Province, Afghanistan. This article represents his own personal views and not those of Infantry Branch, the U.S. Army, the Department of Defense, the U.S. government, nor even the pitching staff of the Florida Marlins.
The more I read, the more I am persuaded that getting the leaders of the U.S. military to recognize that marriages are different now is of utmost importance. Here is one:
As a military spouse and struggling professional, I've found that maintaining my career has taken Herculean efforts on my part. My spouse is still a CGO and I eventually had to resort to more creative measures to keep my career aspirations afloat. I truly believe there is a giant culture shift afoot in the military community and it isn't just Junior Officers...it's across the board. All military spouses, regardless of their servicemembers' grade are fighting tooth and nail to hold on to a shred of their professional identity...and many of us just give up. Unfortunately the price of giving up is astronomical and when these military spouses try to reenter the workforce 10, 15, or 20 years later, it's demoralizing and a slap in the face. Thank you for writing this piece. I am dying to hear more.
And here is another:
I am the wife of a JO currently stationed at Camp Lejeune. I am also an attorney. I have finally found work in the booming metropolis that is Jacksonville, N.C., with the caveat that I was offered only part-time work with no expectation of partnership (as everyone knows we will pcs in a couple of years). Further, I make 1/5th the salary that I made when we were married 5 years ago (my pre-Marine Corps life), and, to put that in perspective, my former law school and law firm peers are currently law partners making 3-4 times what I was making 5 years ago. Put simply, the lost income is staggering. Only I am responsible for my choices in life, and I certainly don't regret mine, as I love my husband and the Marine Corps very much. But I never imagined it would be so difficult to find work. I have applied for countless gov't positions -- anything to get my proverbial foot in the door, mostly contract procurement jobs for which a college degree is not required -- and have never gotten so much as an interview. Thank you again for posting on this topic. It is a frustrating life, for sure.
And from a thoughtful male, after reading some of the comments from men:
I think some of the critics on this thread are hammering on the wrong nail. They think they are hearing serving officers say, "I wish I was posted in or near a big city." What they are actually hearing serving officers say is, "I married an educated woman with some gumption. There's not a lot for her to do with her education and gumption in F-ville. If the Army doesn't think more about this, then I have two choices: (1) lose the career or (2) lose my spouse." I don't think this is whining. I don't think this is a case of guys saying I'm a wimp and can't make it in Fort Hole in the Woods. This is the voice of reason looking for some reasonable answers.
By Jesse Sloman
Best Defense office of Junior Officer Issues
Millions of electrons have been spilled in the last few months on the subject of junior officer retention. As a company grade officer in the Marine Corps, I've been following the widening debate with great interest. Although assertions of a crisis in the JO community have yet to be proven empirically, the volume of interest this topic has generated speaks to its importance as a national security issue. It's also clear that questions about retention resonate among my generation of officers, many of whom are currently mulling their own decisions about whether to remain on active duty.
Despite this outpouring, one critical factor in manpower retention has remained unexplored: quality of life for spouses, over 90 percent of whom are women. Relationship status and spousal satisfaction are crucial influences on a servicemember's decision to stay or leave the armed forces, yet these issues have so far been largely overlooked. As women take on ever greater roles in American professional life -- they now make up a larger share of the national work force than men -- their attitudes and expectations will be increasingly at odds with the traditional role of the military spouse. This is especially true for the spouses of junior officers, most of whom possess bachelor's degrees, strong employment prospects, and belong to a generation of women who have been raised with the assumption that they have as much right to long and fulfilling careers as their husbands. I have seen this dynamic firsthand among my peers. Two of the most promising lieutenants I know, including one who graduated at the top of his TBS class, are planning to curtail their military careers primarily out of consideration for their wives.
Consider the difficulties a young educated woman faces when her husband commissions into the armed forces. As she watches her friends enter the workforce and embark on their new careers, she will almost certainly be forced to move to an entirely new community with little in the way of local employment options. If she is lucky enough to find a good job, her excitement will undoubtedly be tempered by the knowledge that within a year or two she'll be forced to move and start over. Every time she begins a new job search she'll be competing against not just all the other recently arrived spouses, but also against non-military locals who employers know will not be leaving in the near future.
The numbers attest to the difficulties spouses face in finding employment. A 2004 Rand Corporation study found that military spouses are less likely to be employed than their civilian peers and earn less money when they are employed. This holds true even when they are compared against civilian spouses with similar employability characteristics. Given these obstacles, it's little wonder that 85 percent of military spouses say they either want or need work. Of those who are employed, it's not uncommon to find spouses working in positions for which they are manifestly overqualified. I know a former government lawyer currently employed at a nearby unit as a Family Readiness Officer, a job that does not even require a bachelor's degree.
None of these issues is new for military spouses, but it is surely not lost on them that today they are being largely excluded from one of the most important demographic shifts in American history. As Hanna Rosin, journalist and author of The End of Men, explains: "For the first time in American history, the balance of the workforce [has] tipped toward women, who now hold a majority of the nation's jobs.... Women dominate today's colleges and professional schools -- for every two men who will receive a B.A. this year, three women will do the same. Of the 15 job categories projected to grow the most in the next decade in the U.S., all but two are occupied primarily by women."
To its credit, the Department of Defense has taken recent action to try and improve spousal employment with the creation of the Spouse Education and Career Opportunities (SECO) initiative in 2009. SECO is made up of three programs: the Military Spouse Career Advancement Accounts (MyCAA) tuition assistance program, the Military Spouse Employment Partnership (MSEP), and the Military Spouse Career Center. Unfortunately, a 2012 Government Accountability Office report noted that, "DOD is not yet able to measure the overall effectiveness of its spouse employment programs," so it is impossible to know if they are proving beneficial.
I suspect that, given the obstacles arrayed against it, SECO will prove inadequate to the task of providing JO wives with fulfilling long-term employment. Instead, the military may need to come up with more radical measures, such as reinstituting homesteading and increasing the number of unaccompanied tours to locations suffering from limited employment opportunities. Another option is to ensure that spouses' careers are given weight when assigning servicemembers to new duty stations. There are significant practical obstacles to both of these ideas, but over time they may grow to be considered preferable to the problems brought on by spousal discontent.
Ultimately, effective solutions will only be possible when there is widespread recognition that the military's current social model is a legacy of a different time. Today's young women will be increasingly unwilling to sacrifice their professional ambitions for their husband's military career. The choice for young officers will become stark: Stay in the military and make their wives unhappy, or get out and give them a chance to pursue their dreams as well. Unless positive measures are taken to increase spousal satisfaction, I fear more and more JOs will choose the latter.
Jesse Sloman is a lieutenant in the Marine Corps currently based in Okinawa, Japan.
For the genre of "hard-won but sometimes humorous military wisdom," "Charlie Sherpa" mentioned these in a comment on the lessons of helicopter pilots, but they are too good not to run as a separate post.
1. Continually ask: "Who else needs to know what I know?"
2. Continually ask: "Who else knows what I need to know?"
3. Never speak with complete authority regarding that which you lack direct knowledge, observation, and/or suppressive fires.
4. Never pull rank over a radio net.
5. Let the boss decide how he/she wants to learn.
6. Let the boss decide how he/she wants to communicate.
7. "I am responsible for everything my commander's organization knows and fails to know, learns and fails to learn."
8. Know when to wake up the Old Man. Also, know how to wake him up without getting punched, shot, or fired.
9. The three most important things in the TOC are: Track the battle. Track the battle. Track the battle.
10. Digital trumps analog, until you run out of batteries.
11. Always have ready at least two methods of communication to any point or person on the map.
12. Rank has its privileges. It also has its limitations.
13. Let Joe surprise you.
14. Don't let Joe surprise you.
15. The first report is always wrong. Except when it isn't.
16. The problem is always at the distant end. Except when it isn't.
17. Exercise digital/tactical patience. Communications works at the speed of light. People do not.
19. The warfighter is your customer, and the customer is always right.
20. Bullets don't kill people. Logistics kills people.
21. Knowing how it works is more powerful than knowing how it's supposed to work.
22. Cite sources on demand. State opinions when asked.
23. Work by, with, and through others. It's all about empowerment.
24. Do not seek the spotlight, Ranger. Let the spotlight find you. Then, make sure to share it with others.
26. Humor is a combat multiplier. Except when it isn't.
I am told this about the misconducted West Point superintendent, Lt. Gen. David Huntoon. Apparently there was an investigation of his relationship with a woman he brought in as director of strategic communications, whose influence was resented by some faculty members. But the Army keeps on stonewalling and saying only that he was cleared on that -- but won't drop the other shoe and provide information on the misconduct charge that the DOD IG did substantiate.
So what was he nailed on? I asked someone in the know. He told me this:
In the end, all they got him for was, he offered to take care of her cats....[But] the chief of staff wound up doing it. He had to buy cat food. So, after all the investigating, all they got him on was coercing a subordinate to do personal favors.... It's ironic because Huntoon has been all about the ‘image' of West Point.
Tom again: A bigger concern to me -- and to some civilians at West Point -- is the effect that the image campaign has had on the academic freedom of faculty members. I asked about that, and the person I was talking to said, "I think it's fair to say, there is concern that we cannot speak freely. We get messages all the time: ‘Don't talk about this.' There's a lot of concern about image."
A little transparency here would go a long way. But apparently the Army cares more about the feelings of its generals than about informing the people who pay its bills.
Maj. Charles Wagenblast, a military intelligence reservist, brought home this story from Afghanistan about an Afghan colonel:
One of the colonels that we both knew had been accused of raping a chai boy, badly. They all have chai boys, it's not some perverted thing, it's just what they do. Women are for juma. The only time you interact with your wife is on Friday, the rest of the time it's chai boys. He had been raping this chai boy, which is normal, but he had hurt him really bad. That caused the medical people to get involved and other forces. So he's there in front of the judge, who is an imam. It's religion mixed with law, the whole code of law would fit in a pamphlet and then there's the Koran there on top of it. Anyway, his defense was, "Honestly, who hasn't raped a chai boy? Ha ha ha." And the judge goes, "You're right. Case dismissed."
U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Pete Thibodeau/Released/DVIDS
It looks like that may be the case. But we don't know because he and the Army are stonewalling. They're hiding behind a statement that an allegation of an improper relationship was investigated and was unsubstantiated, and that he is retiring as planned.
But they aren't saying what was substantiated. The Washington Post found out through a FOIA request that the Defense Department inspector general did find some wrongdoing. So it appears to me that General Huntoon misled me when he told me in January that "there's no investigation here." Which leads to the question: Are cadets held to a higher standard of conduct than superintendents?
As of 10 am today, General Huntoon hasn't responded to the question I sent him last weekend asking him what is going on.
This is pretty impressive to have written not long after the beginning of World War I:
And if we win,
And crush the Huns
In twenty years
We must fight their sons.
That's what my friend Rosa Brooks assumes, writing that, "Even if humans are somewhat less nasty to one another than they used to be, the complexity of our world has increased exponentially, and our ability to inadvertently mess the world up has similarly increased." I know and like Rosa, but I think she's wrong here.
Yes, we can mess up the world pretty well. But I disagree with her other assertion. That is, I don't think life is infinitely more complex these days than it was in the 18th or 19th centuries. I think life changed faster then than now. Those times saw huge leaps in the capabilities and reach of the human race. Until the Industrial Revolution, it was hard to move people or goods much faster than six miles per hour, and that depended on the vagaries of sail. And almost all information moved at the same tortoise-like pace. Then came the railroad, the telegraph, and the precise measurement of time and goods. This all was accompanied by a massive shift of people from farms to factories, from countryside to cities. In response, the professional governments we know now in the West were created. (London didn't have a police force until the 19th century, for example.)
In my view, the Internet is just a faster, more colorful telegraph. And the sense of change was greater in the 19th century than it is now.
That said, I think historians will regard global warming as the most important trend of our time, and will wonder why we didn't focus on it more. So I think Rosa B. might be fundamentally correct that we are in the handbasket, which was her real point.
Of all the World War I poets, Wilfred Owen stands up best, I think (and yes, I do know I am far from alone). His words feel much more modern to me, almost contemporary. "And each slow dusk a drawing-down of blinds." Great word control.
Here are two other passages from him:
And then there is this:
And of course if you haven't read his great poem about a gas attack, you should do that right now.
By Peter Molin
Best Defense bureau of war poetry
Jason Dempsey's 13 February post on this site decried the lack of poetry by veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Nostalgic for the kind of poetry written by great World War I poets such as Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon, Dempsey writes that from verse, "we get a tactile feel for the war paired with examinations of what it means for life writ large -- the purpose of art, as it were."
I agree with Dempsey that poetry helps us understand war (and all experience) best, but disagree with his claim that our contemporary wars have been left uncharted by poets. Since December of 2012 I have been reviewing art, film, and literature associated with the war at my blog Time Now (www.acolytesofwar.com) in an effort to publicize authors and artists who take the Iraq and Afghanistan wars as their subjects. I have already posted on three poets -- Walter E. Piatt, Paul Wasserman, and Elyse Fenton -- who explore how the contemporary wars have wrought alterations of perspective and emotion on those who fight them and those who have been affected by them. Below I offer a few comments on Brian Turner, by far the most well-known and important of contemporary war poets.
The author of two volumes of verse, Here Bullet (2005) and Phantom Noise (2010), Turner combines an MFA in creative writing from the University of Oregon with seven years of service as an enlisted infantryman, to include a tour in Iraq with the 2nd Infantry Division. His poetry is at once subtle and sensational, accessible and complex. A good example is the title poem of his first volume:
If a body is what you want,
then here is bone and gristle and flesh.
Here is the clavicle-snapped wish,
the aorta's opened valves, the leap
thought makes at the synaptic gap.
Here is the adrenaline rush you crave,
that inexorable flight, that insane puncture
into heat and blood. And I dare you to finish
what you've started. Because here, Bullet,
here is where I complete the word you bring
hissing through the air, here is where I moan
the barrel's cold esophagus, triggering
my tongue's explosives for the rifling I have
inside of me, each twist of the round
spun deeper, because here, Bullet,
here is where the world ends, every time.
Interesting about the poem is the marriage of modern war imagery and emotion with the classical verse form of the apostrophe (a direct address to a non-human thing), all informed by a poetic smartness about half-rhymes, assonance, alliteration, and other forms of sonic alertness. Thematically, the poem presents an original take on bravery. The poem is half-taunt and half-cry of pain, the challenge to the onrushing bullet a futile effort to both resist and understand war's deadliness. The blur of emotions is matched by the interpenetration of the imagery, where the rifle and bullet are given human qualities and the soldier-speaker's body parts are weaponized, as in "the barrel's cold esophagus" and "my tongue's explosives."
The metaphysical musing of "Here, Bullet" is typical of many Turner's poems, which rarely stop to consider events in which he personally participated. Occasionally though he works in a biographical vein, too. A great example is "Night in Blue," from Here, Bullet. Many readers have told me it is their favorite Turner poem:
Night in Blue
At seven thousand feet and looking back, running lights
blacked out under the wings and America waiting,
a year of my life disappears at midnight,
the sky a deep viridian, the houselights below
small as match heads burned down to embers.
Has this year made me a better lover?
Will I understand something of hardship,
of loss, will a lover sense this
in my kiss or touch? What do I know
of redemption or sacrifice, what will I have
to say of the dead -- that it was worth it,
that any of it made sense?
I have no words to speak of war.
I never dug the graves of Talafar.
I never held the mother crying in Ramadi.
I never lifted my friend's body
when they carried him home.
I have only the shadows under the leaves
to take with me, the quiet of the desert,
the low fog of Balad, orange groves
with ice forming on the rinds of fruit.
I have a woman crying in my ear
late at night when the stars go dim,
moonlight and sand as a resonance
of the dust of bones, and nothing more.
When Turner isn't considering his own emotions or the cosmological significance of war, his dominant mode is empathy for those with whom and against whom he fights. Two examples will suffice, one recording a birth in Iraq and one a death:
Helping Her Breath
Subtract each sound. Subtract it all.
Lower the contrailed decibels of fighter jets
below the threshold of human hearing.
Lower the skylining helicopters down
to the subconscious and let them hover
like spiders over a film of water.
Silence the rifle reports. The hissing
bullets wandering like strays
through the old neighborhoods.
Let the dogs rest their muzzles
as the voices on telephone lines
pause to listen, as bats hanging
from their roosts pause to listen,
as all of Baghdad listens.
Dip the rag in the pail of water
and let it soak full. It cools exhaustion
when pressed lightly to her forehead.
In the slow beads of water sliding
down the skin of her temples --
the hush we have been waiting for.
She is giving birth in the middle of war --
the soft dome of a skull begins to crown
into our candlelit mystery. And when
the infant rises through quickening muscle
in a guided shudder, slick in the gore
of birth, vast distances are joined,
the brain's landscape equal to the stars.
It happens on a Monday, at 11:20 A.M.,
as tower guards eat sandwiches
and seagulls drift by on the Tigris River.
Prisoners tilt their heads to the west
though burlap sacks and duct tape blind them.
The sound reverberates down concertina coils
the way piano wire thrums when given slack.
And it happens like this, on a blue day of sun,
when Private Miller pulls the trigger
to take brass and fire into his mouth:
the sound lifts the birds up off the water,
a mongoose pauses under the orange trees,
and nothing can stop it now, no matter what
blur of motion surrounds him, no matter what voices
crackle over the radio in static confusion,
because if only for this moment the earth is stilled,
and Private Miller has found what low hush there is
down in the eucalyptus shade, there by the river.
PFC B. Miller
(1980-March 22, 2004)
Turner poems record such facts of modern war experience as IEDs, women in uniform, and PTSD, but the characteristic most worth mentioning in conclusion is his deep interest in history. Turner's not particularly interested in the war's political dimensions, but unlike 99 percent of American soldiers, he is ever conscious that the Iraq soil on which he fought had a long, richly-recorded existence before America turned it into a 21st century battleground. This pre-history of Operation Iraqi Freedom wells up in Turner's poetry in the form of references to ancient texts, images of ghosts, evocations of ancestors, and readiness to consider contemporary events in a temporal context extending deep into the past and into the future.
To sand go tracers and ball ammunition.
To sand the green smoke goes.
Each finned mortar, spinning in light.
Each star cluster, bursting above.
To sand go the skeletons of war, year by year.
To sand go reticles of the brain,
the minarets and steeple bells, brackish
sludge from the open sewers, trashfires,
the silent cowbirds resting
on the shoulders of a yak. To sand
each head of cabbage unravels its leaves
the way dreams burn in the oilfires of night.
Turner, the first or near-first Iraq veteran to turn his war experience into verse, has established an impressive standard of both poetic craft and thematic depth for the poets who have followed him. Still, no one artist says it all, and other poets such as Piatt, Wasserman, and Fenton have also found interesting and important ways to use their verse to document how the war has been fought and how it has been felt. We wait to see what they bring us in the future and what other poets join the conversation.
Peter Molin is a U.S. Army infantry officer with deployment experience in Kosovo and Afghanistan. He holds a Ph.D. in English literature from Indiana University. The opinions expressed herein are his alone and do not reflect DA or DOD policy.
JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images
Meanwhile, Chief Red Bull is holding a haiku contest. Here's a sampling he sends along:
Eight deployments down
most surreal thing I've seen is
This summer sandstorm
Couldn't blind the first sergeant
To my day-old shave.
A circling bird calls:
War on TV is phoned-in,
Where is the Kandak?
Alone at the command post.
Oh, it's Thursday night!
Sprint in a flight suit
Long tarmac, rip my crotch
Warm Iraq breezes
Our trucks move like ducks
waddling between ponds and now
stuck in this wadi
Silly pogue don't know
Gunslingers don't drink lattes
Arthur Graeme West leads a small night patrol that encounters
...half a dozen men
All blown to bits, an archipelago
Of corrupt fragments, vexing to us three.
Even more horribly, Edgell Rickword grows comfortable with a corpse lying out in front of his position, and reads aloud to him -- until the body rot grows too repulsive:
He stank so badly, though we were great chums
I had to leave him; then rats ate his thumbs.
I've read a lot of E.B. White, but I'd never before come across his interesting definition of democracy, written in June 1943:
Democracy is the recurrent suspicion that more than half of the people are right more than half of the time.
William Noel Hodgson prayed ambivalently in his poem "Before Action":
By all delights that I shall miss,
Help me to die, O Lord.
At about the same time, Siegfried Sassoon's thoughts were running colder as he marched past a corps commander:
‘Eyes right!' The corpse-commander was a Mute;
And Death leered round him, taking our salute.
By Lt. Col. Douglas Pryer, U.S. Army
Best Defense department of war movie reviews
Torture has once again become a matter of noisy public debate. This time (thank goodness!), the reason has nothing to do with new revelations of U.S. servicemembers or CIA employees going amuck on prisoners. Instead, the cause de célèbre is a movie, Zero Dark Thirty. Critics of the movie say that it promotes the use of torture by linking torture to a piece of evidence that proved indispensable in America's search for bin Laden. This, critics like Senators McCain, Feinstein, and Levin say, is a dangerous fiction not rooted in historical reality.
Fans of the movie disagree. They argue that the movie portrays this evidence as far less valuable than that obtained by clearly legal means. What is more, they say, the movie performs a service by leaving no doubt in the audience's mind that so-called "enhanced interrogation techniques" (EITs) were torture, and also by shocking the conscience of these same viewers, causing them to wonder how the U.S. government could so easily surrender founding national values to such little good effect.
I agree with the movie's apologists. The movie does not depict torture as producing indispensable evidence. It shows morally repugnant torture producing a piece of evidence that the CIA already had but had tucked away in a file and forgot about. Seven years of torture, the movie says, produced little if any intelligence that clearly legal methods could have (and did) provide. The real narrative of the movie: A new sheriff (President Obama) comes to town who outlaws torture; subsequent CIA detective work relies exclusively on more cunning, ethical techniques involving, not just humane interrogations, but other intelligence methods; and -- presto! -- in two short years, bin Laden's hideout is found and, a few months later, he is killed. Even if the movie gets many details wrong, it at least gets the basic story right.
But far more important than the movie's historical accuracy is the deeper debate it has resurrected: Does torture work? And, even if it does work, is torture something Americans ought to be using on "hardened" terrorists (or on anyone else for that matter)?
This debate is sorely needed since most opinion polls show Americans' support for torture steadily climbing. A 2011 Pew Research Center survey reported that 53 percent of Americans believe that torture should often (19 percent) or sometimes (34 percent) be used against terrorism suspects to gain information. That marked a steady 10 percent climb from 2004. A recent YouGov poll commissioned by a Stanford University professor indicated that, over a five-year period, the number of Americans approving of torture climbed 14 percent to 41 percent in 2012.
This trend is something that those against "torture as American policy" should be watching carefully. U.S. legislation, military regulations, and Army doctrine -- most notably the Detainee Treatment Act of 2005 and U.S. Army Field Manual 2-22.3 Human Intelligence Collector Operations -- now enshrine prisoner treatment that is in keeping with international standards and the national values expressed by such principled American leaders as George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. In our republic, though, all laws are subject to change -- even those in the Constitution -- if enough Americans support this change.
There is no question which side of the torture debate I fall on. First and foremost, it is clear to me that torture fails as a tactic within the most important domain of war, the moral one. It is thus something that we Americans simply ought not to do.
When people see images of torture, most empathize with the tortured rather than the torturer. This is especially true for those who identify strongly with the tortured in the first place because of in-group, out-group bias, say, because the tortured is a fellow Muslim or a fellow Iraqi. The moral judgment that this empathy has naturally generated -- the judgment that those torturing are "cruel," "evil," or worse still, "inhuman" -- has inspired legions of America's enemies to fight us. At the same time, shame has decreased the will to fight of some Americans within the ranks and at home and damaged the political ability of coalition allies to support America's military adventures abroad. Choosing torture as policy is thus rightly seen as a kind of slow moral suicide, strengthening the fighting spirit of our enemies while sapping our own fighting spirit and that of our allies.
It is also clear to me that torture is an extremely poor method for collecting reliable intelligence. This clarity derives in part from military doctrine, training, and professional reading. But it is also rooted in personal experience.
During the summer and fall of 2003, my boss and I managed interrogation operations for Task Force 1st Armored Division (TF 1AD) in Baghdad. My boss was Major Nathan Hoepner, who wrote an email in August 2003 that would one day be quoted by Tom Ricks in Fiasco. When told by the highest command in Iraq that "the gloves are coming off" and that our unit must provide a "wish list" of harsh interrogation techniques, Major Hoepner emailed a passionate rebuttal: "We need to take a deep breath and remember who we are...It comes down to standards of right and wrong -- something we cannot just put aside when we find it inconvenient." He concluded: "BOTTOM LINE: We are American soldiers, heirs of a long tradition of staying on the high ground. We need to stay there."
Tragically, his impassioned plea fell on deaf ears. Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez soon signed a policy memo encouraging the use of EITs on prisoners, tactics employed at U.S. military Survival, Escape, Resistance, and Evasion (SERE) schools to teach trainees how to survive torture with honor. Sanchez replaced this memo with another in October that ostensibly required interrogators to obtain his approval for non-doctrinal techniques. However, it actually reinforced the belief of some interrogators that they themselves had the authority to order that clothing, food, shelter, light, and warmth be withheld from detainees. Thus it was that degrading, formally promulgated tactics laid the foundation for more serious crimes at Abu Ghraib and elsewhere in Iraq.
At the height of the worst abuses at Abu Ghraib, I regularly communicated with an interrogation chief working at the prison. The reason was to press him to have TF 1AD detainees re-interrogated. Despite his team's conducting numerous interrogations for us, we did not receive ANY useful intelligence whatsoever from Abu Ghraib. Sure, they produced reports on our detainees, but invariably, these reports contained either useless information or different versions of the same stories we had already extracted using humane, rapport-based approaches.
I was not alone in my frustration with Abu Ghraib. For example, Kyle Teamey, the S2X (senior human intelligence officer) for 1st Brigade, 1st Infantry Division, in Ramadi at the time, said: "The folks at Abu Ghraib not only failed to provide any intel of value, they turned the entire Sunni population against us. Meanwhile, we were getting actionable intel by giving detainees Skittles and a cup of coffee."
Despite our nation's and military's gross failures at Abu Ghraib and several other detention facilities, most interrogators at Gitmo, Iraq, and Afghanistan did not choose to torture. Why is this the case? One reason is that many shared the idealism expressed by Major Hoepner, which holds that torture is just something that Americans should not do.
But we should not dismiss professional competence as a reason, either. Those interrogators who had done their professional reading were less likely to engage in torture. In a future guest column, "Top 10 Books on U.S. Interrogation," I will provide a list of some of these books. Interrogators had also learned doctrine and conventional wisdom at the military intelligence schoolhouse that taught that torture is an ineffective intelligence tool. This conventional wisdom included the proverb, "The longest list of lies in the world is that given by the tortured." Many interrogators had taken doctrine and such conventional wisdom to heart, before they deployed.
Lieutenant Colonel Douglas A. Pryer is a military intelligence officer who has served in various command and staff positions in Iraq, Kosovo, Germany, the United Kingdom, the United States, and, most recently, Afghanistan. He is the author of the Command and General Staff College Foundation Press's inaugural book, The Fight for the High Ground: The U.S. Army and Interrogation During Operation Iraqi Freedom, May 2003 - April 2004. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of the Department of the Army, Department of Defense, or the U.S. Government.
Everyone has a good idea of what discipline looks like in an enlisted soldier. He takes care of himself, his gear and his comrades, he trains diligently, responds quickly to orders, looks you in the eye when he speaks, keeps a good lookout.
But I don't think we have a good idea of what discipline looks like in a general. I would begin with this list of characteristics or rules of the road for flag officers:
Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military for the Washington Post from 2000 through 2008.