Tuesday, November 02, 2004

CHAIN OF COMMAND

Last week I was scheduled to “see” my husband for the first time in several months during a video teleconferencing session. I arrived early and waited patiently, as the sessions were running late and another company’s time was running into the hour set aside for our group. But I figured I wouldn’t have to wait for too long because I was the second person scheduled for the session in our company. Yet, when my turn came, another wife’s name was called, then another. I was perplexed and a bit worried that my husband ended up not making it. Then the NCO (non-commissioned officer) overseeing the teleconferencing came out and told me that since my husband was an NCO, he was letting the lower-ranking guys go ahead of him. So I ended up waiting over an hour to talk to him. But I didn’t mind because I know those kinds of sacrifices are part of his job.

The NCO overseeing the video conferencing told me how he loved it when NCOs did that, thinking of their guys first. He told me, “You don’t eat until your guys eat, you don’t sleep until your guys sleep. You take care of your guys first before you take care of yourself.” He was beaming as he said this, so proud of that tradition. No matter what you think of this war, individual soldiers constantly display integrity, honor and a sense of duty that seems to be lost in our reality show-plagued world.

But I saw none of that “I got your back” attitude when the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse scandal hit. On Oct. 21, a staff sergeant was sentenced to eight years in prison for his role in the abuse. He is the highest-ranking soldier charged to date. Six others in his military police unit and one person from military intelligence have also been charged. But what about those who were supposed to be leading this group of mostly specialists, which is just a rank higher than a private first class? This cannot be written off as the sadistic behavior of a few bad apples.

Still, no high-ranking military or civilian official has been held legally accountable for what happened at Abu Ghraib. The leaders of the men and women who were charged left their soldiers out to dry and they should be ashamed. Yes, long-term careers are on the line, but all military officers are taught that in addition to accomplishing their mission, the welfare of their soldiers is their main concern. Officers inspire loyalty and admiration when they look out for their men and women. That is why a soldier will follow an order from his team leader, squad leader and platoon leader, even if following that order means facing death. I would not want any of the generals, colonels and other high-ranking officers linked to Abu Ghraib leading my husband. They displayed conduct unbecoming of an officer.