The Army Honors Its Own, As Should We The People Of U.S.

A recent article in the New York Times by Elisabeth Bumiller, At an Army School for Officers, Blunt Talk About Iraq, says in part (emphasis added):

FORT LEAVENWORTH, Kan. — Here at the intellectual center of the United States Army, two elite officers were deep in debate at lunch on a recent day over who bore more responsibility for mistakes in Iraq — the former defense secretary, Donald H. Rumsfeld, or the generals who acquiesced to him.

As the war grinds through its fifth year, Fort Leavenworth has become a front line in the military’s tension and soul-searching over Iraq. Here at the base on the bluffs above the Missouri River, once a frontier outpost that was a starting point for the Oregon Trail, rising young officers are on a different journey — an outspoken re-examination of their role in Iraq. [1]

You spend your whole career worrying about the safety of soldiers — let’s do the training right so no one gets injured, let’s make sure no one gets killed, and then you deploy and you’re attending memorial services for 19-year-olds,” said Maj. Niave Knell, 37, who worked in Baghdad to set up an Iraqi highway patrol. “And you have to think about what you did.

You have to think about what you did, and what you learned from it, so you can do better next time. Maj. Knell is an “elite soldier” not because of his rank, or the badges he wears on his chest that are a visible resume of his career, but because the Army has recognized he is one of its most promising young officers, one who is fully aware of the awesome ressponsibility that the Army has placed on his shoulders.

No task in our society has more responsibility –or is more sacred — than that of the officers, both commissioned and non-commissioned, to whom we entrust the lives of our children who may be ordered to go with our officers into harm’s way to serve and protect our country.

I wrote a post yesterday, David Brooks: A Still, Small Voice, about some of the problems of our current political climate, and said that “Part of the cost will be that of rebuilding our military, as I will write about in a forthcoming post.”

This is that post.

David’s column appeared on the Op-Ed page. The same edition contained an editorial, On Bonuses and Leaving Iraq, that says in part :

There are new signs that an American military in distress is reshaping itself to cope with the destructive fallout of Iraq — and to look beyond it, even as President Bush insists on dispatching Americans to go on fighting and dying there. Young officers have been offered big cash bonuses to stay in an Army struggling to retain them. The Marines, meanwhile, are trying to move out of Iraq and into Afghanistan, a more popular mission where they could focus on America’s real enemies — al Qaeda and its allies, the Taliban — instead of trying to police a civil war.

The unprecedented bonuses — up to $35,000 — are a sign of desperation. Lengthy and repeated tours in the war zones of Iraq and Afghanistan have created critical shortages of younger officers in such important specialties as military intelligence, aviation — and even in the infantry as more and more men and women choose to leave the service rather than re-enlist. The Washington Post reported that when its expansion plans are factored in, the Army is projecting a shortage of 3,000 captains and majors annually through 2013.

This is yet another example of the cost that will have to be paid to rebuild our military.

However, I differ with the Editors of the Times in that, while the bonuses may indeed be unprecedented, they are a sign not of desperation, but of strength. Our most senior admirals and generals know that their successors should come from the ranks of those who have led men in battle.

I suggest that the Congress should pass legislation authorizing those generals and admirals to spend whatever it takes to retain those officers. Just as Congress passed the GI Bill in the aftermath of WWII, funding the college educations of soldiers who had served in that war, this new GI Bill would fund the retention of our experienced soldiers so they could educate their fellow soldiers and new recruits.

I said earlier that no task bears more responsibility, or is more sacred, than that of a military officer. It is also a task which receives insufficient recognition, and we are also in fault in paying proper respect and honor to the men and women who assume this heavy responsibility.

While many enter the military because of the economic opportunities it offers, particularly to offer a way for those with few economic opportunities to acquire the skills that help them better their lives, those who decide to make the military their career do so not for the money, for they are paid in a far more valuable currency — the respect of their fellow soldiers and the honor of serving our country.

The article by Ms. Busmiller is accompanied by a photo of “Lt. Gen. William B. Caldwell IV, the Leavenworth commander and the former top American military spokesman in Iraq.”

I expect most people would say that the greatest honor any General could receive, apart from an award for bravery in combat, would be asked to serve as the Army’s Chief of Staff. I believe that the honor any Army general would most value would be asked to serve as the Commandant of Cadets at the United States Military Academy (USMA), West Point. [2]

The Army’s most honored officer is thus Brigadier General Robert L. Caslen, Jr. His home page includes a photo of him.

I thank him for his service, as should you.

As noted in About West Point:

A favorite expression at West Point is that “much-of the history we teach was made by people we taught.” Great leaders such as Grant and Lee, Pershing and MacArthur, Eisenhower and Patton, Westmoreland and Schwarzkopf are among the more than 50,000 graduates of the Military Academy.

The USMA’s mission is, in its own words:

To educate, train, and inspire the Corps of Cadets so that each graduate is a commissioned leader of character committed to the values of Duty, Honor, Country and prepared for a career of professional excellence and service to the Nation as an officer in the United States Army.

While Brig. Gen. Robert L. Caslen, Jr. may be the Army’s most honored soldier, he is not among the people most honored by the Army.

That honor goes to the survivors of its Fallen Soldiers.

A letter from Cathy Min Chay, the widow of SSgt. Khu Hyuk Chay, can be found at the web site I have created to Honor SSgt. Kyu Hyuk Chay. This site is one of the sites referenced by the Fallen Soldiersk site, and is the work of a project I have started to honor their memories, Chay Project: To Honor Our Fallen Soldiers And To Assist Their Survivors.

Cathy wrote (emphasis added)::

Once again, I just wanted to thank you from the bottom of my heart for the tribute. It’s the best gift anyone could give me. It really helps me through these incredibly hard times.I eventually would like to create a website but I’m far from doing that.I just moved to a new home in fayetteville. Kyu and I were renting and planning on buying when he got home from his deployment. Since I couldn’t see myself leave the military community I decided to go on with the plan. It’s been a crazy summer with the house hunting, mortgage shopping, etc. It would’ve been our first home. In his last letter he wrote about buying a house…I’ve also decided to stay here because of my new widow friends. We’re a great support system for each other and there’s a group of us who aren’t planning on moving any time soon.

Cathy knows the best home for her is Fort Bragg for she knows that for the rest of her days, and the days of her children and their children in turn, every member of the U.S. Army who knows of SSgt. Chay will honor his memory by doing whatever they can to nurture and protect his survivors. [3]

I never met SSgt. Chay. I wrote a few days ago, in South, that:

I think of him often these days, as the first anniversary of his death will soon be upon us.

I mourn his death every time I think of him, and one more piece of my heart then leaves me on its way to Cathy and his family.

I forgot to say that I find it hard to write of him without tears coming to my eyes, tears that are a sign of honor.

Ssgt. Chay joined the Army as an enlisted soldier, showing that he fully understood there is no greater honor than to be asked to lead soldiers into harm’s way. As noted in Chappaqua Memorial Day 2007: Staff Sgt Kyu Hyuk Chay (emphasis added):

Major Robert Coloumbe of the 105th Air Support Group of the NY National Guard knew Stg. Chay and spoke of him. He said he first met Chay when Chay was working behind the counter of his parent’s store back in his high school days. Stg. Chay expressed an intererest in public service, and Major Coloumbe advised him. At one point Sgt. Chay thought of doing police work, but his interest turned to the military. Sgt. Chay was a graduate of the State University of New York at Albany and attended law school. Major Coloumbe suggested to Sgt. Chay that he could go to Officer’s Candidate School and then join the Judge Advocate General’s Office, the legal arm of the military. He learned later that SSgt. Chay had considered this but had decided that he needed to serve as an enlisted soldier before he could become an officer, as he had to understand the men he would be asked to lead before he could lead them.

He honored his fellow soldiers by giving his life.

We should honor them as best we can.

I don’t travel that much, but whenever I do I see at least one person currently serving in our military. This happened most recently when I arrived in Indianapolis last week, where I saw a young soldier heave an enormous duffel bag off the baggage ramp with ease.

I forgot to thank him for his service to our country, but I will attempt to seek out and thank at least one soldier, sailor, or airmain, every time I travel in the future, and suggest you join me in honoring them by doing the same.

I have a good friend who is the father of a West Point Cadet. When I recently mentioned the “Fallen Soldiers” and “Chay Project” to him, he said that, as a member of the Army family, he knows that the Army had its own way of honoring its own, notably in a web site open only to members of the Army community.

Ms. Bumiller of the New York Tiimes noted in her article about Fort Leavenworth that:

Discussions between a New York Times reporter and dozens of young majors in five Leavenworth classrooms over two days — all unusual for their frankness in an Army that has traditionally presented a facade of solidarity to the outside world

Earlier today I noticed that my neighbor and NY Times columnist Peter Applebome was walking his dog, Walter. I stopped to tell him of my work to honor our Fallen Soldiers, and suggested that the Army would likely extend an invitation to the New York Times to write a story about how they honor their own, a suggestion I extend to any interested reporter by making it here as well.

Notes:

1. Fort Leavenworth is not far, perhaps a hundred miles or so, from the path taken by the Lewis and Clark Expedition.

One of our finest historians, and the finest historian of what it means to lead men into battle or on a journey of exploration, was the late Stephen Ambrose. Two of his finest works are Undaunted Courage: Meriwether Lewis, Thomas Jefferson and the Opening of the American West and Band of Brothers: E Company, 506th Regiment, 101st Airborne from Normandy to Hitler’s Eagle Nest.

He wrote often that the great success our military has achieved in battle is that the officers are expected to act on their own, making the best use of the skills and training of the men they lead, and that as a result our forces have often won battles when heavily out-numbered. The best examples I know of this can be found in his account of Lewis and Clark, as well as the leader of E Company, that Band Of Brothers, Richard Winters.

2. I wrote about West Point in my post Local Boys at West Point.

3. Fort Bragg is the “Home of the Airborne.” I will soon start a site to honor the memory of my uncle, Clare Maxwell. He was the pilot of one of the first ten planes to cross the French Coast on D-Day, carrying his fellow members of the Airborne to their date with destiny, to fight in the most important battle we have ever fought on foreign soil.

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One Comment

  1. Posted October 19, 2007 at 07:46 | Permalink | Reply

    The interesting part for me is the moral corruption that is necessary for good men to survive being caught up in a bad scheme without escape, and if it will shape the US society in the coming decades, after the fall of the current jingoist policies, when the current generation of officers going through the shaping experience of being an occupation force moves into public offices.

    That, in conjunction with the ongoing effort to outsource public military service to mercenaries is going to provide an exciting climate for recruits and officers, in which moral flexibility is a prerogative to survive without tearing apart, and will be an asset they’ll bring with them to the political arena.

    I’d point to current political situation in Serbia, for example, for the results of such a practice (outsourcing to mercenaries, combined with occupation). And to the ICTY’s handling of military officers of occupation forces.

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