During the Vietnam War, a young Navy lieutenant in command of a swift boat was frustrated by regulations prohibiting ambush patrols into Cambodia. Intelligence reports indicated waterways there were not being used by the enemy to ferry weapons to the Viet Cong (VC) used to kill American soldiers in Vietnam. The swift boat commander sensed the intelligence was wrong. He made an important decision – he decided to violate Navy regulations, setting up a nighttime ambush along a Cambodian waterway.
He did not have long to wait to prove himself right. Within hours, a convoy of over a dozen sampans came down river, manned by VC crews. A firefight ensued, and when it ended, not wishing to endanger his own men further in case VC survivors remained, the swift boat commander jumped into the water to retrieve evidence of what was onboard the sampans – a treasure trove of weaponry.
The swift boat commander was put in for a medal by his command; however, a higher ranking commander – the admiral in charge of all naval operations in Vietnam – had a problem. While the swift boat commander had uncovered a major enemy supply line, engaging and destroying the convoy, he had disobeyed regulations by crossing over into Cambodia to prove it. Furthermore, ironically, the swift boat commander was the admiral's son, creating a conflict of interest in addressing the disobedience issue. The admiral, therefore, recused himself, leaving it up to his own superior to decide what to do. That superior made a King Solomon-like decision – for violating regulations but exhibiting courage and initiative that provided insightful intelligence, the medal the swift boat commander would receive was reduced one level below what had been recommended.
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Satisfied the issue was fairly adjudicated, the admiral shared some wisdom with his son. He told him there came a time in every officer's career when, as a matter of conscience, one had to disobey orders and stand up for one's beliefs. That admiral was my father, Adm. Elmo R. Zumwalt Jr.; the swift boat commander, Lt. j.g. Elmo R. Zumwalt III, was my brother.
There are two stories coming out of Afghanistan last month underscoring this wisdom. The first was a Marine officer who demanded an accounting of the irresponsible decisions made by his senior commanders that led to the deaths of his fellow warriors; the second involved a group of veterans who disobeyed regulations to save the lives of some of those left behind.
At the center of the first story is Lt. Col. Stuart Scheller, until recently a Marine battalion commander, fired for going public about the "ineptitude" of our military leadership over the disastrous withdrawal in Afghanistan. He did so in a video right after the deadly suicide bombing attack at Kabul airport claimed 40 lives, including 13 fellow warriors. With 17 years of service under his belt and just three years shy of retirement, Scheller knew he was risking his career and his pension. But he believed it important to "demand accountability" from seniors who were failing to speak out or to resign over President Joe Biden's disastrous Afghanistan withdrawal decisions, allegedly made contrary to the advice of his senior military commanders.
Scheller, who lost a close friend among the 13 killed, was quickly relieved for cause based on "a lack of trust and confidence," having challenged the chain-of-command, from Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin on down. He points out he is saying what many of his fellow warriors feel – that they have been let down by their senior commanders.
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Clearly, Scheller was facing that time in an officer's career when, as a matter of conscience, he had to disobey orders and stand up for his beliefs. As he said, "… I think what you believe in can only be defined by what you're willing to risk. If I'm willing to risk my current battalion seat, my retirement, my family's stability to say some of the things I want to say, I think it gives me some moral high ground to demand the same honesty, integrity and accountability from my senior leaders." Recognizing Scheller's courage, several of his fellow Marines have defended his actions.
Apparently, senior naval officers not perceptive enough to foresee the danger of a quick Afghanistan withdrawal were perceptive enough to know the troops were getting restless over the withdrawal fiasco. Three days prior to Scheller's post, the Navy sent out an email to active duty and retired veterans notifying them the Uniform Code of Military Justice prohibits disrespecting senior government leadership. But, if our leaders, military or civilian, fail to take action, who is left to do so?
Even a former CIA agent exhibited the courage to suggest it is now time to think the "unthinkable" about Biden. He quotes the following from the U.S. Code: "Whoever, owing allegiance to the United States, levies war against them or adheres to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort within the United States or elsewhere, is guilty of treason …" He then adds, while the "Manchurian Candidate" was once creative fiction, it no longer is.
The unthinkable is further supported by reports, during U.S. negotiations in Doha with the Taliban, an offer to allow the U.S. to retain control of Kabul and its airport to complete the withdrawal was declined as American officials declared we would be out by Aug. 31. This means the Biden administration was complicit in helping the terrorists take over Afghanistan. Damning too for Biden is why he waived delivery of a Pentagon report to Congress in June concerning the risks of an Afghanistan withdrawal.
One only wonders if senior officers who ridiculously took the faux white guilt bait to promote Critical Race Theory training in the military are suffering real guilt for their failed leadership in Afghanistan's withdrawal decision-making. The lack of a single resignation says no.
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The second story involves "Operation Pineapple" run by a group of all-volunteer, retired U.S. Special Forces and Navy SEAL vets. They refused to leave behind Afghans who had helped them during the war. They sprang into action weeks ago after receiving notice from an Afghan commando who was on the run from the Taliban. Demonstrating what can be done when adult leadership gets involved, the group rounded up hundreds of Afghans and their families, disobeying orders by venturing outside the airport into Kabul itself, to conduct their rescue sweep. Operating only after nightfall in near-pitch black darkness, they unofficially worked in tandem with active duty U.S. military forces, often moving Afghans one at a time or pairs, under the very noses of the Taliban. They courageously remain in Afghanistan despite the departure of the last U.S. plane out of Kabul to keep saving those Biden chose to abandon.
These two stories reveal evidence that some of our lower-ranking military leaders, unlike their seniors, are driven by conscience. At a time not only our president but these senior military commanders have clearly let us down, it is good to know courageous warriors such as those above are willing to stand up for their beliefs, even if it means disobeying orders.
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