Posts Tagged ‘UCMJ’

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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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.

The topic of the week seems to be the video that has gone viral of the four US Marines who decided to take a leak on the bodies of some dead Taliban.  I admittedly have not seen the video, but it has sparked some debate all the way around on whether or not these Marines have committed a crime or if they are just boys being boys as good old Texas governor and Republican presidential candidate Rick Perry would have you believe.  Thank you Rick Perry for your insight into immaturity and the obviously slow development of the mind of an American fighting man, too bad you are wrong, and here is why.

Notice I have not addressed the gang of four as kids, youngsters, or any other word that would allude to their age, I have called them what they are, Marines.  If they were in the Army they would be soldiers; Navy, Seaman (insert jokes now); or any of the five services as their appropriate rank.  You see when you enlist in the service of you choice in this All Volunteer Service, you may still be young and immature, but you have just signed up for a different set of rules than your mommy and daddy laid down for you.  Your actions in this environment have consequences.  While there is definitely a need for the invulnerability that comes with adolescent immaturity, it is hoped that as you complete your basic training that you are given a little bit of skills which will help you harness your personal dark-side and allow you to use these powers for good.

Now, I can hear the eyeballs of my fellow soldiers spinning like slot-machine wheels right now.  Any one of us who has advanced through the ranks has either been in trouble or assisted in the corrective action of at least one soldier who has decided to act in an irresponsible manner despite all the effort to educate said individual in the consequences of the ill-advised actions of which they are about to commence.  Service members, no matter how well trained, are still young, dumb Americans at heart and as such will do the same dumb things as their civilian counterparts.  In this regard, Dick Perry is absolutely correct.  Where he fails to draw a distinction is the military exists with its own laws and regulations for a reason and seldom does anyone who is not an active member of the military ever truly appreciate or understand that world.  Even spouses who serve right alongside their significant other for years and years, cannot always understand what may be considered archaic consequences for actions that may be less severe in the civilian world.  That is because you are not supposed to, it is an insular world with sometimes archaic consequences, but it is an evolving world.

Military members, regardless of what our job is, exist in a world most only understand through John Wayne movies and misrepresentations through a weekly drama or media pundit.  No offense to all those former Generals out their whoring themselves out as “consultant”, but you are out for a reason, and even if you retired, it was your time, which means you were past your prime.  Laugh all the way to the bank, you were probably overpaid when you were on duty, much as you are telling our secrets.  Civilians generally only get a peak into our world and those who serve and get out after their contract is up, have only peaked behind the curtain.  This life is not for everyone and it takes more than a little look at the magic that happens to understand it, most of the time people do not get it even with a thorough explanation.

The simple fact is, these four dumb asses, committed a crime by  military standards.  Whether this crime turns out to be a non-judicial punishment like offense or severe enough to be a court martial is up to their chain of command to determine.  My hope is that their CoC decides based on the merits of the incident and the Uniformed Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) rather than bowing to pressure in how it is pursued.  With all due deference to the sage wisdom of Rick Perry and the rest of his ilk, who would use something like this as a platform for which they really know nothing about, but keep them in the media, you are not yet and with all hope never will be the Commander in Chief of our Armed Forces.  One thing seems certain to me, old Rick may not be able to remember what agencies he wants to get rid of to help cut our deficit, but he is an expert on immaturity and definitely knows it when he sees it.