One of the first things Army recruits learn in basic training — shortly after acquiring an intimate understanding of and hatred for the phrase “front leaning rest position” — is the branch’s seven core values.
Loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, honor, integrity and personal courage.
Any soldier who lives by those values at all times will be a shining role model.
Any soldier who lives by those values at all times is one in a whole bunch.
That’s why personal failings occasionally knock down even the most decorated and highly regarded leaders in not only the Army but all branches of the nation’s military.
The latest scandal involves not only David Petraeus, one of the architects of the Iraqi occupation who went on to become director of the CIA, but Gen. John Allen, who leads U.S. forces in Afghanistan.
Long story short, it appears Patraeus had an inappropriate relationship with a woman not his wife. The facts aren’t as clear on Allen, but the FBI is turning over its investigative file to the military. The entire situation may become an even bigger problem. It’s already an embarrassment, but because the men have been military leaders in a time of “war,” the shame comes with a sharper point.
U.S. military members are a fairly representative cross-section of the country as a whole. Some of the men and women are truly honorable and decent people. Some are situationally ethical. Some have a moral compass missing a few directions.
That’s not an indictment of the military. It’s a simple truth regarding hundreds of thousands of people, some of whom will bend or break rules now and then.
We like to think that our troops are all Sgt. York types. Impenetrable will. Unmovable conviction. Solid foundation.
Sorry. No such luck.
I remember my first meal at Fort Sill, Okla., as basic training was starting. Four of us were sitting at this little table, asking questions of each other. Can’t remember what elicited the response from the guy across from me, but he casually mentioned that he’d stolen a car. Nice.
That’s OK, because it takes as many volunteers as our military branches can muster these days to fulfill missions around the globe. If the military filtered too heavily, entire brigades would roll up their flag.
Is it wrong, though, to expect more out of senior leaders?
Of course not.
The civilians in charge of the military should hold to a higher standard those in key positions. That’s much easier said than done, especially when someone who’s never worn a military uniform tries to impose “normal” societal rules on people who work in places where the road might blow up at any moment.
Make no mistake, though, generals don’t spend much time in harm’s way. They are usually far behind the lines, protected by layers and layers of security. To be sure, they serve under intense pressure and they are a high-value target, but they aren’t often kicking in a door along an Afghani street.
The top priority for those tasked with meting out punishment for wayward military troops is simple — equity.
If Sgt. Snuffy would face a court-martial for fraternization, Gen. Whatshisname needs to face the same consequence. Nothing lowers morale more than troops seeing their superiors’ mistakes scuttled away only to watch a lower enlisted soldier get the book thrown at him.
Petraeus and Allen will lose much credibility in the public eye, no matter what the ongoing investigation turns up. They will pay a price, and that’s as it should be. We entrusted thousands of lives to these men, and their full and utmost attention and effort is the least we deserve in return. Oh, yeah, the troops in their care deserve as much, too.
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Rick Fahr is an independent journalist in Arkansas who most recently was editor and publisher of the Log Cabin Democrat in Conway. His e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org.