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During the Vietnam War, the failure to hold Lieutenant William
Calley accountable for the My Lai massacre seriously injured the reputation of the
Army. As I stated in About Face, “The kid was guilty as hell.” Now a generation later, in what could have been a high point in the Army’s fight against sexual harassment and abuse of authority, we are handed the McKinney verdict. Somehow he was found guilty of obstructing justice for crimes he was found “not guilty” of committing. Just as Nixon’s
nullifying of the Calley verdict, the McKinney verdict has nullified the trust many soldiers have in our military justice system.

To help her understand the institution she was challenging, the
following article was shared with Sergeant Major Brenda Hoster shortly after she blew
the whistle. Unfortunately, the results of the McKinney trial proved once
more the correctness of this article. It concludes with a challenge and a
possibility of hope. Like tomorrow’s poorly led battlefield soldiers, that
hope is dead if we do not meet the challenge of correcting the ills of
today.

“In search of accountability”

The landscape of the United States Army is primarily composed of
sincere and dedicated individuals who wish to do what is right. Yet during the past
few years, the United States Army has been faced with one series of
problems after another. Rather than asking when it will all end, Army
leadership should be trying to figure out where it all began and identify
the source of the problems. If this is done, Army leadership, at all
levels, will be faced with the same realization made by the cartoon
character Pogo: “We have met the enemy and he is us.”

In the Army, this “enemy” can be broken down into two elements. The
first is the problem individuals who bring discredit to the Army. The second
element is the seniors who always find it more convenient to look the other
way and pretend nothing is wrong, rather than enforce accountability. In
any society, if laws and rules are not enforced they have no value.

The first element is not limited to junior grade personnel. In
fact, the impact created by junior grade soldiers is rather minimal. It is the antics
of officers and NCOs in positions of authority who cause most of the
damage. If a young soldier commits a Uniform Code of Military Justice
violation, that trooper will soon be standing in front of the commander’s
desk. Let an officer or senior NCO commit the same violation and the
punishment (if any) will be much less severe.

This brings us to the second element and the true source of most of
the problems: the seniors who fail to hold subordinate officers and NCOs
accountable for their behavior and inability to perform their assigned
duties. The Navy learned of the need for accountability because of Tailhook
and the subsequent cover-up. The Air Force learned through the downing of
the blackhawks which was followed by glowing evaluations of those
responsible. Even the CIA has learned of the need for accountability
through the investigation of Aldrich Ames. The inspector general of the
CIA, Frederick Hitz, described convicted spy Aldrich Ames in this way: “His
managers were content to tolerate his non-productivity, clean up after him
when he failed, find well chosen words to praise him and pass him on with
accolades to the next manager.”

The CIA IG’s comments about Aldrich Ames could well apply to the
majority of substandard officers and NCOs of the Army. Bad apples don’t turn
suddenly. They continue to get worse because they are never held
accountable. They have no interest in the defense of the nation nor the
needs of the soldiers assigned to them. Only what personally and
immediately benefits them is important. They see soldiers assigned to them
only as a means to the end. These bad apples will not hesitate to make
“examples” out of the good soldiers who cross them, but rarely will a
senior commander make an example out of a bad apple. Instead, we
continually witness substandard officers and NCOs being given “nice”
evaluations because their seniors don’t want to deal with the problem. In
turn, these problems are passed on to someone else with the expectation
that justice will some day be rendered. How can “leadership by example” be
achieved in an environment where the unqualified and self-serving are being
protected, retained, and promoted?

A common excuse for problems we are now experiencing is that the
military is a reflection of the civilian sector. However, civilians don’t run around
chanting “duty, honor, country” while using phrases like “be, know, do.”
Perhaps former Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force, Arthur Andrews, best
stated the difference between the two societies, “… our military career is
not just another job. It calls for self-sacrifice, not self-interest. It
calls for self- discipline, not self-indulgence.”

Furthermore, if a civilian employee is caught in a bad environment,
he or she has options which are not available to military personnel.
Self-termination of employment is one and filing a law suit is another. In
the Army, a soldier does not self-terminate his employment without risking
a stay at Fort Leavenworth. Concerning the ability to file a lawsuit,
corrupt seniors are the first to hide behind the War Powers Act. Unless we
have a professional environment where the Uniform Code of Military Justice
is equally applied and the concept of accountability is enforced for all,
we end up with a no win situation for soldiers who must endure the
environment.

Senior Army leaders need to honestly evaluate themselves against
their own West Point Prayer. “Strengthen and increase our admiration for honest
dealing and clean thinking, and suffer not our hatred of hypocrisy and
pretense ever to diminish. Encourage us in our endeavor to live above the
common level of life. Make us choose the harder right instead of the easier
wrong, and never be content with half a truth when the whole can be won.
Endow us with the courage that is borne of loyalty to all that is noble and
worthy, that scorns to compromise with vice and injustice and knows no fear
when truth and right are in jeopardy.”

Too many officers and non-commissioned officers of the United States Army operate in total contradiction of this prayer. One of the saddest truths about military leadership is that when a senior is exposed for wrong doing, that person’s senior will usually do little or nothing about it. A frequent excuse is that further exposure will harm the reputation of the Army. Wrong answer! The reputation of the Army has already been injured by the antics of the exposed individual. Failure to take action encourages further
misbehavior. The majority of the time, the only one made into an “example”
is the one who exposed the problem.

General Patton stated, “There has been a great deal of talk about
loyalty from the bottom to the top. Loyalty from the top to the bottom is much more
important, and also much less prevalent.” This is especially true when
seniors look the other way and do not hold subordinate officers and NCOs
accountable for their behavior.

A lot of publicity is currently being directed towards the Army for
letting down its female soldiers. The leadership of the Army has let down
its female soldiers. The leadership has also let down all soldiers who want
to ensure that the Army is a fair and honest place to serve. That same
leadership has long since been warned that serious problems exist that go
far beyond sexual harassment. We treat cancer when it eats away at a body’s
ability to function. Lack of accountability is a cancer that has been
eating away at the Army’s effectiveness. Because of the involvement of
Congress and the American press, Army leadership is running around like
fire fighters frantically trying to extinguish sexual harassment. Instead
of trying to correct symptoms, they should go after the root cause. They
should work to develop an environment that protects integrity and enforces
justice.

We can talk theory about how the system is supposed to work.
However the attention the Army is now receiving proves that the system is broken. It
will never be repaired until violators of the UCMJ, no matter what rank,
are held totally accountable. If that includes taking actions to end the
careers of self- serving officers and NCOs, then so be it. We must stop
undermining the effectiveness of the Army by protecting those who are out
for themselves.

The two most important missions we have between wars are to
maintain readiness and prepare for the next conflict. We can’t achieve maximum
results when our good soldiers are either being destroyed or compromised by
bad officers and NCOs. Furthermore, we can’t expect soldiers to willingly
risk death in wartime when senior leadership will not stand up for them in
peacetime. Unfortunately, too many good soldiers have been leaving the
ranks because of bad soldiers. These departing good soldiers will never
become tomorrow’s outstanding leaders. This loss will be felt most on the
future battlefield. The price will be paid with the blood and lives of
young Americans.

So in the meantime where does this leave professional soldiers who
do remain in the ranks? The answer is that they continue the work to maintain
a professional force. Yet, they are part of a system under attack because
of the antics of a few. Meanwhile, the officers and NCOs who wish to make a
career out of serving their nation must compete for retention and promotion
against those who have oriented their lives to looking out for themselves.
Also, professionals must always be concerned about being assigned to a
command supervised by someone who has always escaped accountability. A hard
charging, dedicated soldier who is subordinate to a serious problem is in a
no-win situation. When it comes time for a scapegoat, the dedicated soldier
will take the fall. Eventually the problem officer or NCO will move on to
another assignment and continue with more self-serving antics. Meanwhile,
others will be left behind to pick up the pieces of broken commands and the
ashes of destroyed careers.

Perhaps former New York Police Department detective Frank Serpico
said it best, “We must create an atmosphere in which the dishonest officer fears
the honest one and not the other way around.” Although Serpico was
referring to law enforcement officers, the same is true for officers and
non-commissioned officers of the military.

Failure to act and hold accountable those who have clearly made a
mockery of the Uniform Code of Military Justice is already serving as justification
for the need for externally mandated reform. The Army may get something
that will be much more difficult to live with than something it implemented
itself. General Max Thurman was very fond of saying, “When in charge, take
charge.” Concerning accountability, it is long since time for someone to
take charge. Until we push for professional dynamic leadership in our ranks
and enforce the concept of accountability in all ranks, we will never “Be
all we can be.”

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