It was a Sunday. I had graduated from college and received my commission the day before. And on that Sunday I was packing the car with the meager belongings of a 22 year old in 1980 and preparing to head to Fort Bragg, NC where I would begin my career as an Army officer.
My father hugged me that day...and with tears in his eyes (and as a result, in mine) he said simply "Be a good soldier, Son."
Twenty-one years later as I said my farewell to friends and fellow soldiers in a gymnasium at Fort Lee, Virginia, I recalled those words...and again they put a lump in my throat.
I miss my Dad. I think I especially miss the way he could cut through complex issues to find the simple heart of the matter.
Dad's standards were not hard to understand. "Do your best, give it your all, be a good soldier." Nope...not hard to understand. More difficult to live up to however.
Some years after I began my Army career the Army introduced us to The Seven Army Values. It wasn't new that these values were important in the Army. What was new was the packaging of these together, and the emphasis on teaching these values in their packaged form.
This marked a turning point, in my view, for the Army. It marked the time when the values that were behind the everyday actions and decisions made by Army leaders were actually named, exposed, and highlighted so they could be moved to the fore of an Army education.
And seemingly overnight thousands upon thousands of soldiers were introduced to the tortured acronym LDRSHIP (read "leadership", of course), and the values that created the acronym.
Loyalty: Bear true faith and allegiance to the U.S. Constitution, the Army, your unit, and other soldiers.
Duty: Fulfill your obligations.
Respect: Treat people as they should be treated.
Selfless-Service: Put the welfare of the nation, the Army, and your subordinates before your own.
Honor: Live up to all the Army values.
Integrity: Do what's right, legally and morally.
Personal Courage: Face fear, danger, or adversity (Physical or Moral).
The descriptions above are the short versions. When these values were first packaged and presented in this form every soldier already in uniform underwent training on the seven Army values. Naturally every soldier coming through the recruiting system into basic training and advanced individual training (AIT) was drilled and schooled in the seven Army values as well.
In my last position on active duty it was my privilege to create an award at the Army's cook's school, an award to ve voted on by peers to honor the Army Cook in training who best lived the ideals of the seven Army values.
To this day the seven Army values is routinely a subject of Officer and Non-commissioned Officer professional development.
In short it is inconceivable there exists a United States Soldier anywhere who hasn't been trained on, and expected to live by, the seven Army Values. Those who wish to call themselves Soldiers will find their inner compass always points in the right and honorable direction if they internalize and live these values.
In other words...in the absence of specific guidance, here is your steering wheel.
Which is why I find the story of the abuse of the Iraqi Prisoners of War to be so very disheartening. And why I find the headlines proclaiming these folks never got training on the Geneva Convention such Bullsh*t, if you will pardon my bluntness.
Let's address the latter point first.
How ashamed it must make your mother and father for you to admit publicly that your own upbringing as a human-freaking-being was insufficient to prevent you from humiliating those under your total control.
Are you actually going to pretend that your defense is that someone didn't tell you specifically that degradation and ridicule of prisoners of war is against some international agreement? Does your own moral compass not have the path toward good (or at least even perhaps NEUTRAL, if you can't find good) marked on it? Are you totally devoid of humanity...destined to follow your baser inclinations as if you are some 8 year old character from Lord of the Flies?
Now that we have addressed your existence as sub-human (or, at least, sub-American Soldier), let us address the fact that you are a liar.
I've been around the Army a day or two. Yes, I was on active duty, but I spent three of those years in direct support of Army Reserve and Army National Guard units. I've been a part of the process to mobilize numerous reserve component units. I have been part of the process by which such units must be certified prior to deployment.
Part of that process is to verify the individual and collective training status of the units and their members.
Army Regulation 350-1, paragraph 4-14 stipulates that Law of War training will be conducted (a) during basic training, (b) in the unit and (c) at the Total Army School System courses, which is, by the way, where members of the reserve are certified in their MOSs if they did not attend the traditional basic/advanced training that most soldiers get.
In other words, you have been trained in the Law of War...probably trained numerous times...and that training includes the following teaching points:
(2) Soldiers do not harm enemies who surrender. They disarm them and turn them over to their superior.Having expeditiously dealt with your being a liar, now let us address your abject stupidity.
(3) Soldiers do not kill or torture enemy prisoners of war....
(9) Soldiers should do their best to prevent violations of the law of war.
(10) Soldiers report all violations of the law of war to their superior.
You took photos/allowed photos to be taken of your doing criminal acts.
Congratulations...you stupid, lying scum,during the (hopefully) years that will be taken from you as you rot in a cell at Leavenworth, you will be remembered and mocked as you zoom to the top of every stupid criminals list on the internet, radio and television.
Now...they won't be able to convict you one this charge, but my standards of proof aren't as strict as those required by the UCMJ...so let me also tell you that in my mind you are guilty of aiding and abetting the enemy. You have given al Jazeera the only story they need for about the next couple of decades, you stupid, treasonous morons.
Finally...and I hope this one hurts worst of all. You broke faith with Soldiers. You aren't soldiers, you are self-serving dilletantes who somehow got caught up in a world of otherwise professional Servicemen and women. You let the Soldiers down. You let your country down. You have given our enemies photographic evidence that will be trotted out and shown for decades to come.
You have given Active Duty Soldiers reason to give into their inclinations not to trust Reservists, and in doing so you have sullied the reputation of all reservists, indeed all Soldiers of the United States Army.
You had all the tools you need. You had training. You had 228 years of history and tradition to guide you. You had the Army Values to steer you even through the murkiest of times if you needed them (not that the issues here are murky...not at all.) In my view you failed to live up to each and every one of those values. Hell, even if you couldn't remember them all, just remembering one or two and living by them would have kept you out of all this.
And If all else fails your own humanity and even the Bible could have steered you away from these atrocities.
But you blew it. You failed.
You failed to uphold the standards of humanity...nor the standards of American Soldiers.
I hope you spend at least 20 years in Leavenworth. And given that the jury that convicts and sentences you will be made up of real Soldiers, I'm pretty certain that you will.
Standards. Perhaps if my father had asked of you to "be a good soldier"...perhaps you might have understood a standard so simple.
Instead, you are despised. And in my mind you can never, ever atone for what you did to the reputation of the United States Army and the United States of America.
(Tim's note: The preponderance of stories out there today deal with this subject or the mortar that took too many US lives west of Baghdad. Pardon me if there is not much else to post today.)