Gen McChrystal's relief

Discussion in 'Academy/Military News' started by bruno, Jun 27, 2010.

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  1. bruno

    bruno Retired Staff Member

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    Gen McChrystal's relief highlights an issue that is always touchy- mainly: how much freedom of personal expression does an officer have in expressing his personal beliefs on subjects such as politics, religion, the Chain of Command etc.. Was McChrystal's relief justified? Some of his defenders are now saying that they thought that they were "off the record" and feel like he was sandbagged by the reporter. Can a 4 star general ever really be "off the record"? Is it ever proper for a senior to either express or tolerate an atmosphere that is somewhat contemptuous of the Chain of Command? And a larger question- When and how is it ok for an officer to express his opinions on topics of policy, politics, religion etc...?

    The point of this thread is not to express either support or disparage the decisions of the administration. Everyone has their opinions and that is always the case. Rather, the point is to ask- do officers have limits on their freedom to express their opinions? The UCMJ for sure sets some limits but functionally how does that play out? It's not just politics- religion also comes to play. LTG Boykin got in trouble for expressing his personal religious beliefs a few years ago and the USAFA had a fairly big controversy over senior officers publically sponsoring what some saw as an environment that excluded or pressured those who were not evangelical Christians.
    This is a forum for those who are seeking to become officers- it's a valid topic that they will run into many times in your career.
     
    Last edited: Jun 27, 2010
  2. Christcorp

    Christcorp Member

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    In a condensed version of what I wrote in the previous thread, I think as a military member, such topics are fair to discuss and give personal opinions of. Including that of policies and political views. However, there are 3 things that should always be on your mind and considered before opening your mouth:

    1. When expressing around other military personnel, make sure that it is understood by all involved that these are "personal" views, and in no way will affect your ability to carry out the lawful orders given you by your superiors.

    2. That you never use your rank when discussing such topics. That when discussing such topics with peers, and co-workers, that there is no misunderstanding that a another's opinions, especially a subordinate's, will be equally respected and that there is no intimidation.

    3. That contrary to popular believe, when speaking outside of your peers and other military members, especially anyone associated with the press, that there is no such thing as "Off the record". I'm not saying you aren't suppose to trust non-military personnel with your personal views, but.... You can't trust non-military personnel. Except maybe family members. Most civilians can't comprehend the military person's ability to perform duties that they may not agree with. They don't understand the code we live by or the oath we take. Most civilians are use to expressing their dissatisfaction and even willing to say no to things they disagree with. They can't understand our world, so they will many times associate our personal opinions with our professional performance.

    In my experience, if you can keep these 3 things in mind, then there is no problem with expressing your beliefs in politics, religion, sex, etc... It will help you and others grow and become better citizens. If you aren't capable of keeping these 3 things in mind, then you might be the type of person who probably needs to keep their opinions to themselves. Of course, you have to understand your audience; meaning the other people you are expressing your opinion to. Some of them may have a difficult time keeping these 3 things in mind. So it's best to make sure everyone understands the "Ground Rules".
     
  3. Just_A_Mom

    Just_A_Mom Member

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    Here is the 'word' from Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff:

     
  4. Just_A_Mom

    Just_A_Mom Member

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    I would not 'trust' military personnel either. All you need in one subordinate who disagrees with you and knows you are out of line to take the complaint up the chain of command. It has happened.
     
  5. Christcorp

    Christcorp Member

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    Well, that was a risk I was always willing to take. Leaders aren't born, they are developed. And the one thing that makes our military the finest in the world is that the military members aren't robots. Leaders are able to see the perspective of their troops. Sometimes the leaders are able to turn discontent into effective change; thus increasing moral and efficiency. Sometimes the leader has to stand by the "Just do as you're told" mentality. But robots aren't the right answer. And without having a finger on the pulse of your troops, you can't effectively lead. But the overwhelming majority of military members are quite capable of expressing their feelings, but still following orders of they don't necessarily agree.

    But in reference to your comment, that's why I mentioned that you have to know your audience. But to have some sort of rule that says you can never express yourself on certain topics is unrealistic and counter productive to good leadership. Many times, when discussing politics, religion, or whatever, those with an open mind are capable of learning other perspectives. And many times, what they initially totally disagreed with, they may now understand the why behind it. And that can be a valuable tool in developing teamwork and good attitudes. But none of this could happen if such topics were never discussed. And my comment of trusting civilians was generalized. Without having hard data, I would say that the majority of civilians would have a difficult time understand the military, the oath they swore by, or their code. Whereby the military member you say you might not be able to trust from going off and "Crying to mommy" because of what a senior person said, is rather the exception.
     
  6. Mongo

    Mongo Banned

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    Read very carefully Admiral Mullen's quote which JAM posted:
    Now read it again. The problem is the "atmosphere of disrespect" "regardless" of what really was said. And all the General had to do was "apparently tolerate(d)" it. And it was grounds for dismissal.

    What causes an air of disrespect? The General making a comment? A mid-level staffer making a comment that the Chief of Staff does not correct? Two upper level staffers making an inappropriate comment in the bathroom and overheard by a junior member of the staff? It doesn't matter. Any and/or all can lead to an atmosphere of disrespect. Everyone must be on guard against it. It is contrary to good order and discipline. It cannot be tolerated from the junior most member of the staff to the General himself. And furthermore, those who think they are making innocent remarks to their closest friend are disrespecting their leader, challenging his leadership, questioning his resolve. What may be overheard by one individual as an innocent harmless remark, will be overheard by others as totally disparaging.

    Some may see me as as outdated but Admiral Mullen is from the same era and passed judgement. I will guarantee you that today there is an entire staff that, if given another chance, would put a sign inside the front door stating "No discussion of politics, religion, or the opposite sex allowed".

    For those who see the media as the problem, I ask you, is disrespecting your leaders not contrary to good order and discipline even if the press doesn't know about it?

    No matter how "off the record" a comment is, it still creates an air of disrespect and is inappropriate.

    Lastly, good leadership dictates that one takes their seniors orders as their own. The worst thing one can do is to say that "we are doing it this way because that is the way the boss wants it". We learn in Leadership 101 that "We are doing it this way because it is the way I want it done.", regardless of one's personal opinion. How is this possible with the staff in this discussion?
     
    Last edited: Jun 27, 2010
  7. Christcorp

    Christcorp Member

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    What world do you live in Mongo? In your world, where no one was EVER allowed to speak politics, religion, or sex; Blacks would still not be integrated in the military. We never would have gotten to Don't ask, Don't tell, let along the possibility of gays OPENLY serving in the military. Women would NEVER have gone to the academy. Sorry, but what you think is right, is not possible; and it's not productive. But nice robot world. "Do as I say. Don't think at all. Now, go die for your country like a good little soldier".

    If you're going to say that in your military, if you were in the military, that no one ever spoke politics, religion, or sex; I'll tell you right now that I don't believe you. And this is a forum, so there's no way either of us can prove anything. But there is NOTHING that you can say that will make me believe that. Or, that any such rule could ever be written or enforced.

    Are there idiots out there that don't know when to keep their mouths shut? Most definitely. Are there some who offend others by what they say? Yes again. Are there some that are whiners and get offended no matter what is said, and they don't use common courtesy? Yes, there's plenty of those people too. Well, the right answer is tolerance. We're told that we have to be tolerant of non-traditional religions and sexual behavior. Well, those people need to be tolerant of the traditional religions and sexual behavior. We need to be tolerant of each person's political preferences. And there's absolutely nothing wrong with discussing politics, sex, religion, or any other topic.

    The problem is: People misinterpret. The media will automatically interpret and quote in the definition that provides the most shock value and improves their media position. So, when around the media, refer such reporters to the PA office. The General should ONLY give official comments at official news conferences. No exclusives or sitting around having a few drinks.

    When inside the military system, as long as you follow the 3 guidelines I mentioned earlier, there's absolutely no reason why you can't discuss politics, religion, or sex. No mongo; if you don't think that you are capable of separating your your personal opinions from doing your duty, then that's your problem. You probably need to stay a robot. It's a lot less stressful when you don't have to think for yourself. But I trust our military officers, NCO's, and junior enlisted. The overwhelming majority are quite capable of having opinions and still doing as their told. I don't think you're outdated; just that most military people don't have your hangups.
     
  8. Mongo

    Mongo Banned

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    I never once stated that people do not talk politics but pointed out reasons why they should not.

    We have demonstrated here a very valid hazard of a unit being allowed to talk politics. SInce political campaigning is forbidden, why do you feel that it is so necessary to discuss politics in a job setting? What do you hope to gain? You are forbidden by UCMJ to attempt to change their mind. And I think you have shown by the following statement that you are unable to even discuss the concept of disucssing politics, not even politics themselves, where, by definition, around half the group will disagree with you, without making personal attacks:
     
  9. scoutpilot

    scoutpilot Member

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    Be careful with that one, big guy. Mongo was most definitely in the military. He's a brown-shoe Navy guy, for those who know what that means.

    While we're on the subject, CC, what did you do in the Air Force? Just so we all have a frame of reference when we talk about "our" military.
     
  10. nick4060

    nick4060 Member

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    I have a question that maybe some of the active duty members here can answer. At school we're told alot about how the special forces/ops communities (especially army) sort of live by a different set of rules.

    Obviously I have no experience dealing with them personally so I can only infer from second-hand info. They say that the special forces types stick together and have a more "loose" environment when it comes to officer/enlisted relationships, dress and appearance standards and stuff like that.

    I was wondering that since Gen McChrystal and alot of his close staff members were career special forces guys, could that have influenced the whole scandal? Could it be that the reporter saw this kind of different military enviroment and exploited it?
     
  11. scoutpilot

    scoutpilot Member

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    On paper, no the rules are not different. In reality, we are on a first name basis with one another for the most part, with a few exceptions. I call all my senior NCOs by their first names. Heck I call everyone but the company commander and company sergeant major by their first name. Some call me sir, some don't. It's not an issue we think about.

    The thing to remember is that such an environment exists because of a HIGHER level of professionalism in the special operations community. Because we vet people before they're a part of the community, we have a bunch of truly exceptional people. I can call our ops NCO "Rob" at work and not worry about it compromising my ability to lead him, or his ability to do his job and push-back against me when needed. In a unit that isn't comprised of such high-caliber people, that's not the case. I know that my ops NCO won't think that using his name means we're buddies or he gets special treatment. That's not the case in a normal line unit. That's not to say we're better, it just means we've had the luxury of weeding out the dirtbags.

    As for relaxed appearance standards, that is only applicable in certain combat environments and is achieved through a special "relaxed grooming standards" memorandum. In garrison, we dress like everyone else. We get our hair cut. We shave. So the idea that we run around like a bunch of long-haired hippies is rumor, for the most part.

    All that being said, my NCOs have exceptional expectations of me as well. I can't say politics never comes up, but for the most part everyone knows what's work conversation and what isn't.

    Some standards like custom/courtesies may seem relaxed, but that's because the other standards are far higher across the board.
     
  12. Christcorp

    Christcorp Member

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    Mongo, I never once mentioned discussing politics is a "Job" setting. Matter of fact, I specifically emphasized separating one's ability to discuss things like politics, and still being able to do your job. And I am not making any personal attacks. I am simply pointing out that your solution of "why they SHOULD NOT discuss politics" is not practical. And, that it's actually counter productive to not allow individuals to express themselves. And I doubt very much that by definition that half the group would disagree, especially in a discussion about politics. Considering that the majority of the military, traditionally, leans the same direction. Towards the right.

    But that's not what this thread is about. It was specifically started to discuss whether or not a military member, should be allowed to express their personal opinions in the areas of politics; and for that matter, other subjects. You obviously don't believe that military personnel should have opinions. "Opinions don't exist if you can't express them". I personally believe they should have opinions, and that they should express them. However, i believe that there's a time and place for everything. McCrystal didn't choose either appropriately. But to say that he should never express his opinions on politics, religion, sex, etc... is wrong. He has every right to. The deciding factor is that a military member is to never allow his or her personal opinions to be considered by others as an official position; and the personal position should not interfere with doing your job. Obviously, McCrystal messed up in both of these points. A) He made it appear that "The Military" was not happy with the Obama administration; and B) The confidence that the American people had in the president and his military senior members was questioned. That affects the job getting done. So in both cases, McCrystal messed up. It's not that he shouldn't be allowed to express or discuss his political viewpoints; it's just that he chose the wrong venue to do it.
     
  13. nick4060

    nick4060 Member

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    That clears up alot. But does that tight-knit type of community lead to a disdain for the rest of the army and the civilian leadership? Would you say that it had any part to play in how the comments from the Gen's staff were taken? I mean, when a career special ops officer like Gen McChrystal reaches a 4-star combined command like ISAF, does his staff take on the special ops-type environment or the more traditional army-style environment?

    Sorry if Im not making sense. Im mainly asking if Gen McChrystal's background was a big factor. Did it lead him to allow the "free talk" among his subordinate staff officers that the reporter took advantage of?
     
  14. scoutpilot

    scoutpilot Member

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    Well, part of this may stem from his background. However, a lot of his background was not in SF, but in an organization that cannot be fully discussed in this forum. Needless to say, GEN McChrystal has been a flag officer long enough to know right from wrong.
     
  15. scoutpilot

    scoutpilot Member

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    You never answered my question. What was your "job setting" in the military?
     
  16. Mongo

    Mongo Banned

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    And I never once mentioned what people could or could not do in the privacy of their own home. I just kinda assumed we were talking about the McChrystal situation which happened on the 'job'. And yes, I consider group unit travel, 'mandatory' social events, smoke breaks, everyone in the office going together to the club for lunch, etc etc on the job. One's 'job' as a military officer does not cease when they get up from their desk.

    Perhaps the Navy is a little different since when one walks up the brow and reports aboard a naval vessel, that ship becomes their life, especially when they are underway. Combine a 24/7 'job' setting with very little available news and politics falls way way down the list of subjects that people want to discuss. The opposite sex is an entirely different subject though.

    scout, I think he was a fireman.
     
    Last edited: Jun 28, 2010
  17. sprog

    sprog Member

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    I was a missile launch officer in the USAF (aka missileer), and the duty involved spending 24 hour periods underground with just one other guy. We talked about religion, politics, and the opposite sex most of the time. That, or we complained about North Dakota and wing leadership. Isn't that the kind of stuff everyone taks about in the service? I mean, I surely wouldn't have discussed any of that stuff if a reporter was present, or if the wing commander was on a site visit; however, if I was just shooting the bull in the launch control center with my crew partner on alert (who was either my commander or deputy..thus there was a supervisor relationship), no subject was really off limits.

    I'm not trying to defend McChrystal, though. Clearly, he should have known better in his situation. There is a huge difference between his situation and that of a couple isolated officers in North Dakota shooting the sh*t, miles away from anyone who cares :yllol:.
     
  18. Zaphod

    Zaphod Founding Member

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    Yes, they have limits. It's right there in the UCMJ. This question doesn't even need to be asked.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Jun 28, 2010
  19. sprog

    sprog Member

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    It isn't AS boring as you might think. There is a fair amount of knowledge required to do the job, and the standards are brutally high (they have to be). Training is always on-going.

    But, it is pretty darn boring sitting on alert..no question. Some alerts are super-busy, others you might get one alarm. Luckily, they provide sat TV with premium channels.
     
  20. Zaphod

    Zaphod Founding Member

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    I wish we'd had that on the midwatch while sailing in circles in the Carribbean.....
     
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