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The return of Capt. Queeg

Got to tell you, my Irish is at high boil.

I’d planned to write about headline issues this week: The $87 billion price tag for the latest Pentagon rip-off; the $40 million the Pentagon parked with Special Forces Command, to be returned when Rummy needed pocket change; or the fact that thousands of our kids in Iraq don’t have decent body armor when the top stuff that could save lots of lives would cost around $80 million – just double what the auditors caught the Pentagon squirreling away.

But that was before Beth Stewart told me about how her husband, Tom, recently got screwed, blued and tattooed.

Tom Stewart – an educator in civilian life – has been doing Military Police duty at Fort Carson, Colo., ever since his South Dakota National Guard unit was called up.

When he complained to his wife, Beth, that company morale was “pretty miserable” because the leadership in his unit was not “Do as I do, but do as I say,” Beth remembered two columns of mine from her Rapid City Journal newspaper and promptly fired them off to Tom.

Tom, who posted copies of the articles on all of the barracks’ bulletin boards, reports that “The articles were well received by many of our soldiers. But the leadership had a different opinion.”

In fact, the powers that be called for the head of the phantom bulletin-board poster on the end of a bayonet.

Not that it was a big deal for the MPs to track Tom down. He’s one of those South Dakota cowboys who tells it like it is and by his own admission is known throughout his unit as a “rabble-rouser.”

According to Tom, and backed up by several eyewitnesses, once his platoon leader, Lt. Michael Fields, did ID him as the perp, the lieutenant lost it. “He smoked me good, and while I was in the leaning rest doing push-ups, Lt. Fields tore up my weekend pass, threw it at me and said, ‘You’re not going anywhere for the next three months.’”

We’re talking over-the-top, Caine Mutiny-type conduct here.

In a telephone conversation I had with Lt. Fields, he initially denied the incident. When I said I had witnesses, he screamed like a little boy caught cheating at school, “It’s none of your business!” And hung up.

Despite the fact that he has eight years’ service, Tom is now the unit’s “Beautification Specialist.” “What I do on a full-time basis is sweep, mop, wax floors and police the area of things that God didn’t put there like cigarette butts,” he told me.

The three-months’ restriction to Fort Carson that Lt. Fields laid on Tom includes Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s.

Fields probably doesn’t have much identification with the pain he inflicted. Since his family lives only two hours away, he can even commute.

“Once I got over the initial shock,” Beth said, “I had the unfortunate task of telling our 6-year-old daughter that her daddy wouldn’t be coming home. This was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do.

“Then I became angry.

“Angry to know that my husband was on active duty and being treated no better than dirt. Angry knowing the freedom the military is so fond of saying it protects is not a luxury afforded to its own soldiers. Above all, angry to know that the higher one is in rank, the more one gets to come home to see one’s family. The 1st Sergeant of my husband’s company, for example, has been able to come home to see his family every three to four weeks, while my husband and others like him have had passes approved to come home only four times in the past eight months.”

Outstanding units are good because they have good leaders, and bad units are bad because they have leaders like Lt. Fields, who at one time was a trooper in Tom’s squad.

Tom says Fields was a good soldier back in his enlisted days. Beth says Tom still has the highest regard for him now despite the smoking.

But unfortunately, those gold bars Lt. Fields is sporting seem to have doubled his helmet size and given him judicial powers that are not his to mete out.

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