If President Obama wants any credibility among our warfighters, he must perform an “about-face” and show himself as an example to follow.
Why was there noticeable awkwardness and silence when the president addressed our future officers at the United States Military Academy? Maybe our warriors are looking for a commander who is on the same leadership journey they are, but, the best that they try, they can’t make the connection – because he doesn’t share their experience or understand the character of their calling.
Today, all American citizens and legal immigrants volunteering to serve in our Armed Forces must first present their original birth certificate, naturalization certificate or alien registration card along with other required marriage, medical and education documents when applying. Next, they complete, in transparent detail, their personal history in a National Security Questionnaire. Finally, they sign both general and medical release of information authority over to the military. These volunteers are vulnerable to the scrutiny of police record checks and further security investigations. Lying, to include nondisclosure, is a felony. Military recruiters then set off to gather any and every necessary document to qualify our youth to serve in their elected branch of our armed services.
After joining and completing initial training, many new service members deploy to war; some don’t return. Very few others, but some, will be discharged for lying on enlistment records. Others will be denied security clearances or have them revoked for reasons of false or misleading information or criminal conduct. Military commanders address these types of offenses within their command authority and the Uniform Code of Military Justice.
Whether a three-year enlistment or 30-year career, service members live under military authority and law their entire time in service.
Moments of self-inflicted discomfort preside when President Obama is around those in the military. The reason: Many in uniform look up and honestly ask how their commander in chief passed muster to serve at the head of their ranks by averting reliable disclosure of very basic entry-level documentation and screening.
There are no conspiracy theories. No politics. Military service members strongly desire that their highest leader inspires with unshakeable candor and decisive competence. Soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines understand the accountability required of them for the honor of wearing their uniforms and reasonably expect the same from their CinC.
The president chose not to set an example by evading legitimate congressional verification of his eligibility to run for the office he now holds, especially when facts surrounding his candidacy call many legitimate eligibility and character issues into question. Nondisclosure of the president’s education, medical, passport and other records raises far more questions than provides answers. Why are documents related to relevant questions withheld from many lawful public requests for inspection, and why is every attempt for court rulings silenced? Furthermore, the president has not released the first document presented by the overwhelming majority of our children when they join the military – a full birth certificate. This behavior is alien to military culture.
Where was he born? How does anyone honestly know?
Obama’s campaign, his family and other media sources each cited his birth at Queen’s Medical Center, Hawaii, until that claim was investigated and the assertions dropped. Then-Sen. Obama next published an official short-form record alluding to his birth being at Kapi’olani Medical Center, Hawaii. Interestingly, Hawaiian residents born the day after him in 1961, at the same hospital – and who were his school classmates – have had their full birth certificates publicly revealed. Hawaii government officials have verified the president’s birth but cannot release his documents for reasons of privacy. Yet Hawaii state personal records are easily and legally acquired by civilian lawyers and military recruiters on behalf of others quite frequently.
Is the president a U.S. citizen? Probably. Is the president a natural-born citizen? Possibly. Is the president setting an example our military can follow? No.
In the U.S. military, the burden of proof for establishing all qualifications rests with the applicant. The Defense Department has a tangible interest and legal standing to indisputably verify the character, health and background of all who serve in it. When questions arise during the accessions process, greater disclosure is mandated and further investigation required.
Seventeen-year-old military enlistees easily and quickly provide their original full citizenship verification documents when asked. Why can’t a grown man, former senator and current president do the same? What is he hiding? It is the president who has created the integrity and trust gap between himself and our service members fighting our wars.
City-hall records departments, hospitals, universities and agencies in various states will release President Obama’s records if he signs a release of information to do so. Strange that everyone serving in our nation’s defense has no choice but to sign full releases regarding their private information – but the president exempts himself.
During the four years of this administration, military recruiters will sadly deny many living in America the right to serve in our Armed Forces due to valid disqualifications. Likewise, military commanders and courts will punish, and sometimes imprison, service members due to misleading and criminal behavior. Yet honor, integrity, courage and selfless service will still be the high calling of all attending our military academies, ROTC programs and basic-training centers.
The very cadets looking up at the president as he spoke at West Point will one day take command. They will be leaders exercising the president’s authority in justice over infractions of their own soldiers.
How can we effectively maintain military morale and discipline when our service members look all the way up through the chain of command – and the man at the top of that list will not step on the road of transparency, accountability and integrity they each must walk on and possibly give their lives on?
Herman Welch is a 28-year veteran of the U.S. Army who resides in Hawaii. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and are not the official views of the Department of Defense.