Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Fitting Punishment?

The kerfuffle over the remarks made to Rolling Stone magazine has been at the top of the headlines for a couple of days now. The resignation (forced?) of General McChrystal and the naming of General Petraeus to take his place has raised a number of questions in my mind.

1. Does our commander in chief have any understanding of the way the military operates and the importance of having a relationship with a theater commander that provides an open door for the sharing of concerns? Apparently not.

2. Can a president without any military background (much less any real leadership experience) effectively serve as commander in chief?

But the greater issue in my mind is this: What was McChrystal thinking in sharing his thoughts publicly? That is a huge blunder.

From day one of a person's military experience he is deluged with reminders of the chain of command and the importance of respecting one's superiors and following orders. This was certainly my experience during my time of service, back when Richard M Nixon was the commander in chief.

Certainly, McChrystal may have been frustrated, especially with inept civilian higher-ups such as Joe Biden (for whom he has little respect, apparently) and Karl Eikenberry, US Ambassador to Afghanistan. But he had other channels to voice his disdain and displeasure. Doing so publicly was just not smart.

I recall serving under four different battalion commanders during my time as an infantry lieutenant. I served under two of them during a stint in Germany, and the other two during my time as a rifle platoon leader, then later a mortar platoon leader in Vietnam. Two of the four were men I gladly served under. The other two I endured. One of them I would have followed charging hell with a water pistol. And one of them I would not have crossed the street to shake hands with. But, even if I didn't respect a ranking officer as an officer, I respected his insignia of rank, and dutifully saluted and deferred to his leadership.

The only time I actually took a commander to task was on a mission in the mountains west of DaNang. My company commander and his little gaggle of followers patrolled with us for several days during this mission. Under orders from the battalion headquarters to move to a designated place by a designated time, the CO told me to do something that I considered extremely dangerous and unnecessary - take the 35 men of my rifle platoon down a dry stream bed in order to reach our destination in time.

I asked for a word in private, and proceeded to tell the captain that I thought his idea was dangerous and unnecessary.

"Sir, with all due respect, there is no need for us to subject these men to this danger. We can reach our destination in time by continuing to cut a trail through the jungle."

What ensued was a "yes you will" - "with all due respect, sir, I will not" argument. At the risk of court martial or other punitive measures, I did not relent. The CO finally saw that I wasn't going to subject my men to such danger without cause, and he backed down. I'll save the outcome of this situation for another time.

The point is this - there is a right way and a wrong way for one to air one's grievances with higher ups in the chain of command. Every soldier knows this. McChrystal did it the wrong way. However, I think Obama went way overboard in his handling of the situation, if he indeed asked for McChrystal's resignation. We won't know that until the next issue of Rolling Stone.

No comments:

Post a Comment