“The elephant in the room”
There has been a notable trend lately within the United States Military, leading to discussion and debate of the disciple or lack thereof. There is a major issue that the Department of Defense and Veterans Affairs have missed when it comes to the psychological mindset that the military has portrayed since the beginning of the Global War On Terrorism. This issue is stemmed from many different facades however it starts with the screening process for entry level all the way up to the upper echelons that reside inside the beltway. Within every branch there has been an uptick in the amount of scandals, disciple within the ranks, and even war crimes. This is a byproduct in what I call the “Armstrong” approach.
First and foremost, we must understand we have a technologically advanced military that is beyond reproach and light years above our peers, with some of the finest men and women in uniform. Yet it is the institutional inbreeding that could become our demise. We have this attitude like “Lance Armstrong” that we will win, no matter the cost and even when we undermine our own leadership; it will implode on our nation. The “Armstrong” approach is to deceive, at every level about everything that is going on within the programs with one goal in mind and that is personal gain. With the rising amount of scandals that have rocked our military and our Veterans programs, I lay this responsibility squarely on The Secretary of Defense, The Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the Secretary of Veterans Affairs.
This started when GWOT kicked off with Task Force Dagger hitting targets at an unheard-of pace. In all honesty we should have used the MOABS from the start and obliterated the entire country of Afghanistan. I mean, if the Russians couldn’t have maintained a presence there, what made us think we could have? There is a lot of controversy that has spewed from Tora Bora, and with the operational mindset of the commanders we “Cry Havoc! and let slip the dogs of war”. The operational pace didn’t slow down after Anaconda, the machine was just getting going and with the invasion of Iraq on the horizon it wasn’t going to. Operationally we were surpassing our production value, to use a civilian term, and in 2003 we launched another campaign.
Since then it has been a delusional growth of our war fighters, sure they were going above and beyond. More acts of heroism and valor through what Tom Spooner calls “love of another man” more young men and women made the ultimate sacrifice. This operational tempo was too much for many exceptional soldiers and they started to burn out, resorting to institutional learned behaviors and self-destructing, managing their anxiety causing many to resign or retire.
Leaving holes to fill, we substituted standards for results and our ranks grew thin. I was at the epicenter of this rush to fill slots and bring numbers up, I watched first hand as commanders of the Initial Entry Training Brigade made it harder to weed out personal for behavioral and performance issues. (We told to graduate a trainee who had failed Basic Rifle Marksmanship and yet that score was higher than his Physical Fitness, let that sink in). This issue to fill slots went to the upper tiers of our operational forces, with Special Forces Units adding an additional Battalion to each group for the support of the tempo.
The military leadership within the Beltway is so disconnected from their respected organizations, that it is almost impossible for them to rationalize what they had caused by their need for personal gain. They had this “Armstrong” mentality, so the standards were dropped across the board in every branch in order to appease the administration and their political requests. This irreversible mentality created by disloyal leadership and incompetent management through this progressive approach caused the distrust of every subordinate within the ranks.
This also manifested itself in leaders stabbing each other in the back, so they could be recognized as the one individual that deserved the Bronze Star for “Service” and not “Action.” ( I am not sorry for saying that one bit, because we all saw that asshole who was that guy, knowing damn well, the civilians wouldn’t understand the difference). We saw an explosion of scandals that hurt the integrity of the very cornerstone of our country. The rules of engagement weren’t set, and it literally has hit every echelon of the military rank.
Most notable of these scandals was Ret. General David Petraeus and his love affair, which ended up costing him one of the most unattainable positions as the Director of the Central Intelligence. Others such as “Fat Leonard” and a whole deck of high ranking Navy officials went down as they made deals with prosecutors. There was an Air Force Col. that gallantly took a F16 out on a date night with whom a woman he was having an affair. He might as well have drawn a sky penis for his thoughts, this would have kept the pilots that were reprimanded last year on deck.
These scandals only touched reputations, hurt their career paths, and most definitely their marriages. Divorce rates are at about a 90% within the military after 4 years regardless of what poll you look up or what any news outlet will tell you. “Further, researchers have found that married enlisted personnel are 62 % more likely to get divorced than married civilians, even with basic demographics controlled (Lundquist 2007).
There have been multiple scandals within the DOD that have weakened the armed forces. These scandals have been due to issues that range from negligence to personal gain. In case of Bowe Bergdahl, the US Army allowed him in the service with a known mental health issue. His actions cost the lives of service members during the search and rescue of him in the days after his disappearance. Bradley Manning purposely leaked thousands of documents that potentially cost the lives of the informants the US relied on upon for intelligence. Later he would claim he was transgender, another mental illness.
Maybe we need some kind of tactical pause to address these issues.
More stringent recruiting standards would have prohibited these two joining the US Army. Other Criminal acts were more personal. The US Navy SEALS have a history of questionable ethics and morals. Special Operations Chief Edward Gallagher was blindsided by blatant insubordination by his own teammates, about questionable killings. Joint operations still would show the lack of professionalism that this unit had, when two more members along with two Marine Raiders murdered a 3rd Special Forces Group member in Africa. The Navy wasn’t the only one with personnel conducting illegal activities as a member of the 7th Special Forces Group was picked up for drug trafficking and smuggling of a controlled substance.
Some of these scandals were direct results in of the lack of a through process during the recruitment and then through the sustainability and forced retainability. The mission tempo in Iraq surged in 2005 therefore more soldiers were coming home and returning back to Iraq within months after combat operations. Again, to the face value of this and to the public the commanders and senior leadership argued that individual units returning home would maintain a 15 month period in-between deployments, and where they were able to get around this time frame by ordering an individual to a new unit that had just stood up within the division.
The soldier then would return back to combat operations in less than 9 months, with out any psychological decompression or therapy. The “Stop Loss” policy differs from branch to branch, yet the branch can retain your service if you still are a qualified individual. Instances such as young men and women that had exited the service and were years beyond the uniform when they were called back onto active duty to serve during the surge.
SSG Robert Bales was convicted and sentenced to life in his role in one of the worst war crimes ever committed by a US Soldier. He was alleged to have murdered 16 innocent civilians, after he has snuck off his post in the middle of the night. This is in stark contrast as to what Special Operations Chief Eddy Gallagher is being accused of, which is killing combatants in an unorthodox direct approach of his foreign relations to the “capture or kill” lists the teams have of high value targets.
His case is also something which is a reminder of what happened within the Marine Corp. There was a scandal involving a sniper team that had been videotaped urinating on dead corpses of Taliban fighters. Sgt Rob Richards was ultimately court martialed and his rank was reduced, only months later to commit suicide. The fog of war can be daunting but under circumstances understand that the enemy would not respect the same values as we hold as Americans.
We must ask ourselves; Where has the accountability gone? Where has oversight gone when operational tempo with cool colors are associated with results? When you have a professor (Dr. Joyner, James) at the Command and Staff, War College in DC spewing his thoughts of toxic masculinity within the Marine Corps, yet not serving more than 4 years on active duty and most of it within the Artillery branch of the US Army, this doesn’t leave you with much thought.
It starts at the top and it must start with the senior enlisted and their first thought of their soldier’s health and welfare. Look at Ranger School and the discombobulated issue that this brings up, Women in combat roles. Again, the Russians tried this first with poor results in World War I. “ More significantly, Russia was the only country to employ women systematically in sexually segregated military formations. (Stoff, Lori)”
This influx of bending the social normality for political acclimation has now undone a lifelong standard for combat infantrymen, which would be considered watered down. There are units that specialize in human intelligence, and urban reconnaissance that require a female role, however their role in combat can be detrimental.
There are females who serve in these units as a supporting element which are among some of the most elite operators on the top tiers. The SERE (Dpt of Army, DOD) school will make an individual understand what women will go through if they are captured. The standards in Ranger school were that façade that the “Armstrong” approach the leadership took, To the face value and public; the standards were never dropped, however multiple sources rebuttal this fact and in fact the women were helped throughout the course by political pressure. This same approach is what lead to the late senator John McCain confusion about his status as a war hero. He used that status which is completely different than what merits valor or exceptional service to promote himself into a political position. To use the sympathy gathered by an observation, to obtain personal gain or wealth is much more of a complex behavior.
The exit process can be scary and intimidating if there isn’t any preparation. The military will indoctrinate a person just like the prison system will. When it is time the person will return to the civilian world without any help from that institution or organization. Take the Command Sergeants Major Academy in El Paso for instance, which is a brutally long course in which they aren’t even taught anything about the transition process they must encounter and every one of their subordinates for when they retire.
This program will not focus on this, as they are located on one of the largest military bases in the United States. There are more and more NCOs within the Army that are more worried about appeasing their command, than taking care or mentoring their subordinates. I am sure that the other branches see this issue, as we must hold ourselves more accountable than an a civilian. So in closing if you are still on Active Duty in an any uniform, and serving our country I want to say “Thank you, for your service and the sacrifices your family has made.”
Also, understand the transition process is tough, but we all have made it and don’t rely on the Veterans Affairs for your immediate needs as your expectations will not be met. Reach out through some of their programs such as the Vet Centers or look on Social Media for veteran organizations to help you during this time.
Teachman, J., & Tedrow, L. (2008). Divorce, Race, and Military Service: More than Equal Pay and Equal Opportunity. Journal of Marriage and Family, 70(4), 1030-1044. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/40056316
Grossman, D. (2009). On killing: The psychological costs of learning to kill in war and society. New York: Back Bay Books.
Grossman, D (1999). On Combat; (with Loren Christensen). New York: Back Bay Books
Tom Spooner Biography
List of scandals
Retired General David Petraeus affair
Fat Lennard scandal
Air Force pilot taking F16 for a date night
Seals and Marsoc murdering 3rd Group member
Special Operations Chief Gallagher
SSG Robert Bales killing 16 civillians
Marine Snipers urinating on dead Taliban fighters
Professor James Joyner ( Command and Staff college)