Thursday, May 12, 2005

This one time, at band camp...

There's been a decent amount of discussion lately in blogeria about legal and ethical violations by recruiters who are falling drastically short of making their numbers. See here and here for examples. I'm frankly too lazy to find more.

If you will indulge me a moment, I'd like tell a story. I love story hour.

About eleven or twelve years ago, during my stint in the Army, a colonel from another unit submitted a request to my unit for a five man support element. The request was submitted in writing to our battalion S-3 (operations officer), who confirmed the details with the colonel by phone before farming it out to my company. The nature of the request dictated that it be handled by my squad, and it fell to my team. Several days prior to mission time the team leader also contacted the colonel by phone to confirm the relevant details on the order which we had received; time, place, equipment and so on. When confirming that the mission was taking place at a nearby location on our own post, the colonel further remarked that we would not have to request transportation, as we would not have to travel off-post, or far from our barracks. This particular mission also happened to be taking place on a weekend, which becomes important later.

Come job day we all assemble in the company area several hours ahead of our reporting time to assemble equipment, perform checks and inspections, and generally get our shit together. About an hour prior we formed up into a loose formation and marched to our reporting site, where we found another team from a neighboring unit which was also acting in support of this mission. But no sign of the larger element we were supposed to be supporting. At this point the staff duty NCO wandered by and asked us what the hell we were doing in his AO; when we explained who and what we were doing, he informed us that there was no such exercise taking place in that location. Were we perhaps looking for a similar training area on a neighboring post? You know, the one thirty miles down the road?

We found a phone, called the number for the location on the other post which the staff duty NCO had thoughtfully provided us, and sure enough, the colonel had given the wrong location to both support elements he had requested. One company from my battalion was billeted on the neighboring post, and he got a wee bit confused. We were now in somewhat of a pickle, as we had to motor our asses thirty some miles in what was now about twenty minutes to show time. Adding to the level of screwed, the motor pool was closed for the weekend. We discussed taking a POV (privately owned vehicle, or what the rest of the world calls a "car"), but ruled that out on two counts; 1) carrying a military weapon in a POV is a UCMJ violation, and 2) we had specific equipment which wouldn't fit in any of our vehicles. So we called the colonel back and told him he was shit out of luck unless they could send transport or wait seven or eight hours for us to walk. Neither of those turned out to be viable options, so we said "Have a nice weekend, sir" and went home.

Monday morning the big ball of shit started rolling. Physics and the nature of the chain of command dictated that it proceed downhill at the quicktime.

Clearly a colonel is far too high ranking to be blamed for such a screwup. It seems the Captain who served as S-3 in our battalion was similarly blessed, and so the ball rolled on down the hill, until it reached us and ground to a stop. 0730 Monday morning the whole team was standing at attention in the CO's office explaining what happened. And by "explaining" I mean moving our mouths and making meaningless sounds having absolutely no effect on the outcome, which had already been determined during an early morning call between our battalion commander and the colonel in question. We "explained" that our equipment would not fit in any of the vehicles available. And we were told that we should have taken it apart or broken it down however necessary (I am not making this up). We "explained" that it's a violation of a general order under the UCMJ to transport weapons in a POV. And we were told so fucking what, you men were given a mission which you failed to accomplish. The mission comes first, and you accomplish your mission using whatever means are available.

Let's review that: we were disciplined for not performing a clearly illegal act in pursuit of our mission.

I don't in any way condone what those recruiters are doing, particularly in regards to mentally disabled kids, but ultimately they are responding to pressures which are being exerted upon them by their chain of command. I view this as an extension of the mentality and leadership climate which produced the current culture of torture. I hope to have time to write that up tomorrow.