Recall that swearing in
And reach beyond the grin
To a vow to defend
Without an end
Our Constitution’s words
From all herds
Without and within
Including next of kin
I have a brief but true story that needs to be told, but first I want to comment on the recent words by General Ricardo Sanchez. When I first read them, I was flooded with mixed emotions. While I firmly believe that he had every right to criticize his civilian leaders and I agree with many of his conclusions, I was annoyed if not angry that he said nothing when he had the power to influence events in Iraq and I could not help but wonder why. Could it be that his job was so important that he said “Yessir, yessir, three bags full" during his tenure as Commander in Iraq, but felt that he could not speak truth to power without punishment of some kind? I have lost my anger and I feel that I understand that he may actually be doing some good by enabling discussion of leader performance in Iraq.
My story begins when I was a major leading several instructors at an Army school. One instructor, CPT S. came to me and reported that the class commander had asked a question and that he had answered truthfully. The class had been on break when the guidon bearer got careless and placed the class guidon in a spot where it was picked up by one of the cadre. After the break, the cadre leader asked the class commander where the guidon was. When he stated that he did not know but that the class had it at the break, he was told that the entire class should produce 5 cases of beer for the cadre in order to get it back. The question the student commander asked my instructor was simply: “Is that my only choice?” CPT S. correctly stated that if the guidon was misappropriated to extort beer from the students that, indeed, there were other choices.
I supported CPT S. without reservation and called JAG to be sure that it was a matter of record and that I would not tolerate retaliation against the class or its student commander. My boss, LTC R. supported me and the lines were quickly drawn with his boss, COL H. in strong opposition. Soon, this tempest in a beer glass escalated to the point where CPT S. was threatened. I asked for a summit conference with COL H. with my boss being present to defuse the situation. There was no mollifying the colonel and soon there were threats against the student commander and I again called JAG to investigate the threats of dismissal for him. JAG interceded and the student graduated from the basic course despite the anger of the colonel and the cadre. My boss later protected me in his rating but could not shield me from my endorser (the colonel), nor could he protect himself from the same colonel.
Colonel H. invoked “tradition” as his written reason for a lowered endorsement for me and also for my boss’ lowered rating. I do not regret my actions nor would I choose to change my decision. I have lost no sleep over it because extortion is illegal and if that is a tradition, it is not a tradition worth maintaining. I refused an order from the colonel to support the cadre and simultaneously violate my oath as an officer and he refused to put the order in writing as I requested at the summit conference, so I took the hit along with my boss. Stuff happens.
Return to the Iraq war and General Sanchez. General Sanchez had Abu Ghraib happen right under his nose as well as on his watch and it appears that he chose to minimize it as documented in the Taguba Report. He accepted the troop number limitations, deployments, and other high level decisions without public comment. Would Sanchez have lost his job if he had commented publicly or even privately? Absolutely! Did he lose his job anyway? Yup…he never lost the smell of Abu Ghraib and he was retired without getting that fourth star. The satisfaction of making the right moral and ethical decision is not in the reward that you might get, but in being at peace with yourself for living up to your oath. You may take a hit…even a big hit, but if General Sanchez felt the nation was ill served by the national policy and the decisions, was it his choice or was it his duty to say so clearly and maybe even in a summit conference with the boss’ boss? I vote for duty. General Sanchez was a little late, but he finally made roll call. Don’t expect kudos, General Sanchez. Expect punishment from those who disagree and you will never be disappointed. By the way, the cadre never extorted for beer again, so maybe my own little decision had some positive effect in that small way.
LTC, USA, Retired