Folks, I’m a fan of Support Our Troops. I am truly grateful that the nation has supported soldiers and our military brethren despite opposing the war. That is a good thing, a thing that our brothers and sisters who fought in the Vietnam War worked tirelessly to prevent this time around. For every person that has sent a care package or thanked a soldier by buying him or her lunch or a beer or simply written a letter to let us know you were thinking of us, I and my brothers and sisters in uniform thank you.
But it’s time for a small does of reality. Folks, the vast, vast majority of soldiers served with honor. They are the minority of folks who volunteered to serve when the rest of the nation was worried about the Kardashians or some other bullshit. But everyone who has worn the uniform is not deserving of the honor of being thanked for their service. I’m probably going to catch hell for this post but that’s ok. I’m overdue for a rant.
You will often hear folks in military circles talk about officers who have commanded and those who have not. Having just left company command, I will tell you that it shaped and changed me more than any experience previously, except deploying to Iraq in 09. The responsibility is awesome, the authority even more so. You must balance the good order and discipline of the group with the needs of the individual and I will tell you, there is never a perfect answer. We do the best we can and once we pass the guidon, we second guess ourselves, we question what we did and we what if the hard choices we made and we hope we made the right decisions.
Brace yourselves for the biggest revelation I had very early on as a commander: There are people who do not deserve the honor of wearing our uniform.
In one year as a commander, I put 13 soldiers out of the military and some of those, I wish I didn’t have to. Commanders have a lot of discretion but there are some things they will do and others things they may do. I won’t talk about the specifics but I will tell you that the folks I put out on misconduct did Bad Things. Not one of those Bad Things was court martial-able but they were bad enough to end their military careers. Several of the troops I separated for misconduct were put out on an administrative discharge called a Chapter 14-12C, serious misconduct. Again, not bad enough to warrant a court martial, but bad enough to be contrary to good order and discipline.
But you see, some of these men and women have deployed to combat zones. Some of them may have seen Bad Things. Does that mean that I as a commander should have tolerated as an example alcohol abuse, drug abuse, sexual misconduct or an endless stream of civilian arrests within my formation? Should I have made excuses for them and sent my NCOs constantly chasing after men and women who did not believe that wearing the uniform was a privilege and not a right? Who were taking time and effort away from the team that was preparing to deploy yet again? Should I have put them in therapy and excused their bad choices as results of their deploying to combat?
No because being deployed to combat is not the same thing as being involved in Really Bad Shit Downrange. The military should not excuse bad behavior for soldiers just because they deployed to combat and neither should the civilian world. If you deployed, I say thank you for serving and signing up. But just because you deployed does not mean you have carte blanche to kill people, steal, do drugs, not come to work, beat your spouse, kick your dog…you get the idea.
Some of my brothers and sisters coming home from war have come back significantly scarred. TBI and PTSD are very very real things and have very real implications for families and communities of veterans who have been involved in traumatic events. How can you know who has been involved in really bad shit vs those who are just trouble makers? You can’t, not unless you were there.
But if you come home and act like a criminal or a thug do not expect my fellow commanders to have sympathy for you. We expect that you will do what it takes to ask for help if you need it, to have the strength and the moral courage to say you know, I’m not okay and I need some help. For that?
The bottom line is judge the person on their actions. Don’t drape me or anyone else in the flag and make excuses for our shitty behavior just because we deployed to combat. We don’t deserve your excuses and we damn sure don’t deserve your pity.
If we ask for help, please work with us and understand that yes, deploying to combat changes people. It takes a long time for your normal to be reset after deploying, even if you sat on the FOB. Daily life in the combat zone is not the same as it is back here and you need to understand that.
But if we show our ass or worse, engage in criminal activity, do not excuse us because once we wore the flag on our shoulder. You dishonor all of those who have served honorably when you do.