The Fine Line Between Civilian Views and Representing Your Service

Posted: March 10, 2012 in Government, GWOT, Media, Political
Tags: , , , , ,

In today’s world, many service members get the impression that just because they have access to a social media venue that they have the right to say whatever the hell they want.  Since the Global War on Terror began way back in 2001, all the military services have striven to capitalize on the available of high-bandwidth solutions across the globe in order to provide themselves with the ability to move intelligence and time sensitive information into the hands of those who need it and whenever possible when they need it most.  A by-product of this has been an increasing level of connectivity of the warfighters to their families, thousands of miles away.  As a military communicator, I can tell you that at times, the warfighting effort has suffered due to the misapplication of bandwidth towards morale, welfare and recreation activities.

Along with all the means of connectivity provided us from forward locations, there has been a weakening of the enforcement of what is and what is not acceptable to post on your personal media accounts.  Just a few years ago my little foray into blogging would have given me fits at work.  I would have needed approval from someone in authority to post this blog and probably would not be able to mention the military or my involvement at all.  While I try to speak of anything of a military nature in the most general of terms, I also make a conscious effort not violate the sanctity of posting about issues that affect me at work.  You should not air your dirty laundry, that is sensationalism and if you are attempting to prove a point, you will more than likely undermine your efforts by bringing something to a public forum that has no bearing on the issue at hand.

There have been a rash of violations in recent years that have resulted in service members being punished for violating policies when it comes to social media and overall internet usage in general.  There have been several times people have been given non-judicial punishment (an Article 15, or non-courtmartial offense) for posting the death of a comrade before the next of kin has been notified. In my opinion, this is one of the most egregious violations that can be made.  It is hard enough for next of kin to hear the news by those who are tasked with such an important service, never mind seeing it on someone’s FaceBook status.  Various other violations have happened as well.  Basically, if there is something you can do on a social media service, it has been done to the detriment of someone’s pay and possibly their rank.  On the extreme end of things we have someone like Bradley Manning (I refuse to call him by his rank) who has taken it upon his vastly experienced self to let the world know the horror that is the War on Terror and the atrocities that have been committed by releasing several hundreds of thousands of classified documents and videos to WikiLeaks, the electronic watchdog of the collective social conscious of an otherwise humane world.

Today we can move to the case of Marine Sergeant Gary Stein and the issue that the Marine Corps is currently wrestling with; can the service censor or order Stein to remove himself from a Facebook page he started and comments he has made against President Obama, or, will it be a violation of his 1st Amendment rights.  Also in question are what rights are service members accorded and when can they make statements as a military member, but not as a military member.  Confusing, yes it is, but I will try to explain, caveating this with, as a person from an older generation of service members, I may have an opinion that has changed or morphed from what was acceptable when I entered service oh, so many years ago.

As I get closer to the 20 year mark in my career, I can see why the military sets it as the first benchmark for retirement.  There are, and have always been, generational differences that happen as new soldiers enter service and the older ones begin to leave.  Technology changes, policy changes, world changes all play a part in the span of a career.  When I came in the Army in 1993, the US was transitioning from a Cold War mentality to one of global policing.  Having moved through the ranks in the years since then, we transitioned even further to a lighter, global terrorism fighting force still capable of fighting a known nation-state, yet struggling early on to shift our procedures to adapt to our mobile, less technologically advanced enemy.  As I get closer and closer to the year I will retire, 2 to 4 years from now, I realize the burden of change for the next generation of leaders will be to deal with the continuing burden of technology and the positives and negatives that arise from a force having so much electronic access.

As someone who grew up in a military that was tasked with supporting and defending the Constitution, we were not exactly blessed with all the rights afforded civilians by it.  I mean we have our own set of laws, the Uniformed Code of Military Justice (UCMJ), and there are only two routes of appeal if you feel you have been wrongly convicted of a crime by a General Court Martial.  you first would go to the US Court of Military Appeals and as a last resort could petition the US Supreme Court.  That is it.  The fact of the matter is however, we as a military are becoming more and more accepting of an off-duty frame of mind which seems to allow us to separate ourselves from our contractual obligations.  This includes what service members are allowed to do in their personal time, including posting remarks that directly condemn the man you were sworn to follow the orders of.  Make no mistake, I do not have anything against speaking out when you feel a policy is wrong, as long as you can provide an alternative solution to the problem, otherwise you are doing nothing bu bitching.  I draw the line when you say you will not follow the orders of the man (maybe woman one day), then rethink your position and amend your statement to one you believe is”unlawful”.  When it comes down to your place on the battlefield SGT Stein, the order has been through enough hands and amendments, that it should not be up to you to decide whether or not the order is legal or not.  Should you choose not to follow it, you would be disobeying an order in contradiction to your oath of enlistment and the UCMJ.  When it comes to Sergeants, we decide what is legal or illegal as it is happening in front of us, I don’t know, like maybe some of your colleagues pissing on dead enemy combatants while someone films it, or the crimes against detainees at Abu Ghraib prison.  Those are issues you can have a direct effect upon, not the decision of national level leaders, who by the way is your Commander in Chief.

A couple of us were discussing a topic similar to the last statement made just the other day.  The consensus was, while none of us may have agreed with most or any of his political policies, we do not blame him for everything that has happened over the last four years.  That would make us no better than the people who spent all the time blaming everything on Bush when it takes just a little research to realize the truth.  The bottom line is we volunteered for our duty, some of us stay with it because it is a calling, but we all give up some freedoms in our volunteerism because it is required in order to maintain the good order and discipline needed to sustain a professional fighting force.  You cannot compare what is afforded the civilian populace with what is afforded military members.  The rules are different and the results of violating them are harsher and quicker to come to fruition.  That is a by-product of having the guns, we need a swifter resolution to our violations of the sacred trust of protecting the population.  When we do not represent our services, our country and the people of it in a respectful manner, there needs to be consequences that are representative of both our ideals of a country and the discipline we violated as a member of the service we represent.  Military members live within the framework of the Constitution, but are not strictly held to it, our code of laws should be enough to address the issues at hand.

So any future Sgt Steins or Bradley Mannings out there, think of your freedoms and the ability to use them like spandex; just because they make it in large sizes does not mean you should actually wear it.  Just because you are offered the ability to use Facebook or Twitter or some other to be named social media service and you have a difference of opinion with someone who has given you an order, does not mean that you should air that grievance and remember, you are not the final authority as to what is legal for you to say or not, everyone has a leader at every level, right up to the Commander in Chief and he answers to a body of people too.

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Comments
  1. […] The United States Marine Corp has decided to issue SGT Gary Stein An Other Than Honorable Discharge for his less than well thought out public criticisms of President Obama.  I first wrote about Stein a little while back in The Fine Line Between Civilian Views and Representing Your Military Service. […]

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