Follow-Up to Desecration or Immaturity

Posted: January 16, 2012 in General, GWOT, Media, Social Media
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

This topic seems to want to stay in the mainstream media one way or the other.  After my posting yesterday, Desecration or Immaturity I saw a number of folks who posted a quote from Representative Allen West, a Republican from Florida, as a Facebook status update.  This quote was propagated by my military friends, I cannot remember seeing it as a status update for anyone that does not have a tie to the military either past or present.  The quote goes like this:

Rep. Allen West (R-Fla.), a former Army lieutenant colonel, commenting on the Marines’ video “I have sat back and assessed the incident with the video of our Marines urinating on Taliban corpses. I do not recall any self-righteous indignation when our Delta snipers Shugart and Gordon had their bodies dragged through Mogadishu. Neither do I recall media outr…age and condemnation of our Blackwater security contractors being killed, their bodies burned, and hung from a bridge in Fallujah. All these over-emotional pundits and armchair quarterbacks need to chill. Does anyone remember the two Soldiers from the 101st Airborne Division who were beheaded and gutted in Iraq? The Marines were wrong. Give them a maximum punishment under field grade level Article 15 (non-judicial punishment), place a General Officer level letter of reprimand in their personnel file, and have them in full dress uniform stand before their Battalion, each personally apologize to God, Country, and Corps videotaped and conclude by singing the full US Marine Corps Hymn without a teleprompter. As for everyone else, unless you have been shot at by the Taliban, shut your mouth, war is hell.”

Representative West is absolutely correct in a number of things, but is probably a bit short-sighted in his overall intent of his quote.  First, the things he is correct in speaking about, this is a military issue and will fall under the Uniformed Code of Military Justice (UCMJ), when it comes to meting out the punishment if/when it is found applicable.  I say this because there is a presumption of innocent until proven guilty in the UCMJ, but the military in order to maintain good order and discipline can choose to approach this particular violation in several ways, one of which is non-judicial punishment; to be explained a little better in just a bit.  His second point of correctness is more inferred than directly spoken.  As he used the examples of American fighting men and the atrocities perpetrated against them and their corpses in the aftermath of battle to demonstrate the selective use of the media and what they may consider a despicable act, and the collective short-sightedness of politicos and “over-emotional pundits and armchair quarterbacks”.  Representative West, gives his retort more along the lines of the Lieutenant Colonel (LTC) that he once was, sticking up for his men while letting others know that there is an issue and it will be dealt with, within the confines of the UCMJ and to keep it out of the court of public opinion.

Now, where did the Representative goes wrong.  He spoke as the former battalion commander he once was.  No military leader, ever wants the business of his men to get outside their circle and reporting chain.  No doubt, he would deal with this as harshly as possible for a number of reasons, you cannot have this level of indiscipline go unpunished without creating the presumption that it is okay and accepted within your command, should the incident manage to make it out of your sphere of influence you want to let your peers and senior leaders and subordinates know that you are an effective leader, and, anyone who has any common sense of decency wants the acts perpetrated in the name of their country to be represented at the highest levels with due consideration of the circumstances.  War is hell and even deaths under the most righteous of circumstances can be disturbing to the uninitiated, necessary to those in command, but never a cause celebre.  Soldiers (used as all encompassing for America’s fighting men and women) of the highest caliber, celebrate their success in the aftemath of battle, not the conquest of their enemies.  If you do not understand that, then you have never been in the position to and no explanation will ever suffice.

Another way in which Rep. West falls short is that he fails to take into consideration the wanton act of one of the five, yes five, minimum people who actually went so far as to post this.  Five people because there were four doing the deed and at least one filming it.  Knowledge of the act and doing nothing about it is makes you just as guilty as those with their peckers in their hands.  The posting of the video is what may lead this to be elevated from an Article 15 to a Court Martial offense.  Chances are as this is investigated further, there will be more folks who were aware of the incident, possibly even as it was happening.  Seldom on the field of battle these days are there only four or five folks to do the fighting.  It is a rare instance when that is the case.

A little down and dirty for the uninitiated to the ways in which you can be found wanting and judged by the UCMJ.  First up is non-judicial punishment.  This comes in three flavors, the first is Company Grade with two possible outcomes, one that will follow you throughout your career and one that does not leave your command when you do.  This is carried out at the Company level by at least a Captain.  Next up is Field Grade, this is generally for a more serious offense and is carried out by a field grade officer, generally the Battalion Commander or possibly his designated representative, this one will definitely follow your career.  Either form of Article 15 is non-judicial, you did something, were counseled on it and charges were preferred against you, the “Commander” uses his power to levy a punishment against you, but the outcome is not considered criminal in nature.  Field Grade is a more severe and restrictive outcome of a Company Grade; loss of pay, rank (only by the level of command at which you can be promoted by), restriction to a defined area are the most common punishments in part or whole that can be levied.  A court martial is some serious doodoo and comes after an Article 32 hearing has commenced (think grand jury as a comparison).  If an Article 32 concludes there is not an offense serious enough to warrant a Court Martial it is still possible to be tried in an Article 15, but at this point think Field Grade.  Courts Martial are similar to civilian courts, but there are very tangible differences.  This is a VERY simplistic explanation of the forms of punishment granted under the UCMJ, fortunately in 18 years of service the only participation I have ever had with any has been as the supervisor of someone who is “standing on the carpet” as we call it.

I admire Representative West for his comments and as a soldier I can appreciate his point of view.  I think he was probably a well liked officer and I really know nothing of his political career.  He is right in his intent, this needs to be and will be dealt with according to the UCMJ.  There is no doubt violations happened, on more levels than just peeing on an enemy corpse.  As stated in my earlier post, I hope that it is dealt with as we would anything else in the military, within our own systems as flawed as they may be, and not in the court of public opinion.

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Comments
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