How not to help an enlisted man

A number of milbloggers are “going dark” today to protest actions taken against a milblogger by the name of CJ Grisham, an Army Master Sergeant who has gotten into some trouble because of his blogging.  Some milblogs, such as Blackfive, are organizing support.  More power to them.

However, I’m concerned that they will be doing MSG Grisham more harm than good when it comes to his career.  The bottom line is that MSG Grisham is an active duty soldier, and active duty soldiers have duties that are different, and indeed in contradiction, to the ideas of freedom of expression and open criticism of their Branch.  MSG Grisham’s problems come, in large part, because of complaints made to his command from civilian sources — because of his criticism of his Commander in Chief, because of his community activism, and his criticism of the Army.

From what little I have read, most, if not all, of MSG Grisham’s posts seem to be well-written and on point.  He has some important things to say.

Unfortunately, none of that is important.

Being in the service has some particular obligations and some particular meanings.  One of the things that it means is that you *don’t* have freedom of expression, at least when you express yourself in uniform.  You have a lot more freedom speaking off-duty.  But blogging as an active-duty milblogger is somewhere in the middle.  While one is not writing while “in uniform,” he derives his authority from writing while on active duty.  People pay attention to what he writes in part because he is active duty.  Thus, his position as a soldier is part of his blog, and reflects on his unit and his command.  It would be no different than when I was in the Georgia Bureau of Investigation for me to write “I’m at home now, and not on duty.  But I’m a Director of a Regional Medical Examiner Lab at the GBI, and here’s why the GBI sucks…”  I would be less than honest to claim that my position in the GBI was not an important part of the post.

The second thing it means is that one has to look at things from an organizational perspective.  One important concern of base commanders is how well the base gets along with the surrounding civilian community.  A commander doesn’t want to  get to his office in the morming and find out that a bunch of community leaders are complaining about his men pissing off the community.  And it doesn’t even really matter whether or not the uniformed man is “right.”  What matters is that he’s pissing off the community.  Community relations are more important than the feelings of any single soldier.

The third thing it means is that the chain of command means something.  If your commander says froggie, you generally say “How high?”   If your commander tells you to cool it, you cool it.  If your commander isn’t asking you to do something grossly unethical, you don’t start going to your JAG office complaining of “unlawful orders.”  Once again, it doesn’t even really matter whether or not you “win” at this.  If the command thinks that you are going to be running to JAG complaining of unlawful orders”every time you are pissed off, you will not end up doing well.  Sea lawyers never do.

The fourth thing is that you don’t want to be a problem.  In particular you don’t want to be a problem that is a distraction from the immediate mission at hand.  If you are a commander and the first thing you hear about one of your men is how he is stirring shit about something you don’t really care about,  but suddenly you’ve got community leaders on your doorstep,  phone calls from three states away, newspapers on the phone, people with news cameras haning outside the gates, and inspectors coming out of the woodwork,  you will mostly just want it to stop.  Whatever it is this guy is doing, he should stop it, get rid of these distractions, and concentrate on the mission.

The position of many milbloggers, however, seems to be the opposite — that a soldier’s freedom of speech comes before anything else, that it’s the job of the command to support soldiers in their war against community leaders, and that it’s the job of the command to follow the soldier rather than the other way around.  Thus, for instance, Laughing Wolf  at Blackfive notes:

“First, milblogs are facing an increasingly hostile environment from within the military.  While senior leadership has embraced blogging and social media, many field grade officers and senior NCOs do not embrace the concept.  From general apathy in not wanting to deal with the issue to outright hostility to it, many commands are not only failing to support such activities, but are aggressively acting against active duty milbloggers, milspouses, and others.  The number of such incidents appears to be growing, with milbloggers receiving reprimands, verbal and written, not only for their activities but those of spouses and supporters.”

Of course they are — because milbloggers are reversing the role of the chain of command.  I suspect that milbloggers who clear everything they write with their command are not in the group being persecuted.  It is the inalienable right of the enlisted man to bitch, but it is not his inalienable right to bitch to the newspapers, or to create his own newspaper to spread his complaints as wide as possible.  I am reminded of training I once received at the GBI involving this particular issue, where my instructor, a former Chief of Police, quoted the movie “Saving Private Ryan.”  In that movie, the Captain is leading his men, who are not pleased with the mission of saving some obscue Private:

Private Jackson: Sir… I have an opinion on this matter.
Captain Miller: Well, by all means, share it with the squad.
Private Jackson: Well, from my way of thinking, sir, this entire mission is a serious misallocation of valuable military resources.
Captain Miller: Yeah. Go on.
Private Jackson: Well, it seems to me, sir, that God gave me a special gift, made me a fine instrument of warfare.
Captain Miller: Reiben, pay attention. Now, this is the way to gripe. Continue, Jackson.
Private Jackson: Well, what I mean by that, sir, is… if you was to put me and this here sniper rifle anywhere up to and including one mile of Adolf Hitler with a clear line of sight, sir… pack your bags, fellas, war’s over. Amen.
Private Reiben: Oh, that’s brilliant, bumpkin. Hey, so, Captain, what about you? I mean, you don’t gripe at all?
Captain Miller: I don’t gripe to *you*, Reiben. I’m a captain. There’s a chain of command. Gripes go up, not down. Always up. You gripe to me, I gripe to my superior officer, so on, so on, and so on. I don’t gripe to you. I don’t gripe in front of you. You should know that as a Ranger.
Private Reiben: I’m sorry, sir, but uh… let’s say you weren’t a captain, or maybe I was a major. What would you say then?
Captain Miller: Well, in that case… I’d say, “This is an excellent mission, sir, with an extremely valuable objective, sir, worthy of my best efforts, sir. Moreover… I feel heartfelt sorrow for the mother of Private James Ryan and am willing to lay down my life and the lives of my men – especially you, Reiben – to ease her suffering.”
Mellish: [chuckles] He’s good.
Private Caparzo: I love him.

And that’s the problem.  Many of these milbloggers are not griping up the chain.  They are griping out of the chain.  They are griping to people below them, beside them, above them, across commands, and to any civilian who will listen across the nation and across the world.  They are drawing attention to their commands for things their commands want nothing to do with.  It’s not their job to support their command — they think that it’s the job of command to serve *them* and protect *them* from any fallout.

It’s understandable that they feel that way, of course.  They are people who have served their country bravely.  They are profoundly loyal to their country, and often the actions of their command don’t make sense, particularly when their leaders pay attention to politics.  There are problems in the military that *do* need attention.  There are issues with our political leaders that are of appropriate concern to people in uniform.  And of course, parents are appropriately concerned about conditions in their community that impact their kids.

But the answer is not to lead with your chin.  You have a command structure that is reacting to attention and demands from people outside who they feel should simply not be involved.  What’s the blogger’s response?  Create more of a problem, of course.  Laughing Wolf at Blackfive, for instance, encourages readers to “Make your voice heard by writing your congressional representatives and others, and by making donations as you see fit.”

Yep, a commander is upset because local community leaders are coming to him bitching about one of his men.  The solution?  Have all sorts of people bitch at him.  Fill up his mailbox!  Become a *full time* distraction.   Show command who is *really* the boss.  Command really likes that approach.  There’s nothing a commander likes better than being told by somebody completely outside the chain that he’s not really the boss.  He even likes it better when someone is successful at having someone farther up the chain come down on his ass.  That will really fix things for the enlisted man who is at the center of things.

There are solutions for this kind of thing.  One solution is to work *with* command — not against it.  It means giving up some of that autonomy, but that is part and parcel of being in the military. One can achieve self-actualization in the military, but it’s through “selfless service,” not forceful individuality.  It’s by helping the command achieve it’s mission with its buy-in.  That means kissing a little ass up the chain — not unheard of in the military.  The solution is not to get in a pissing contest with your chain of command.  It is  not to tell command that you are in charge, not they.  When command hears that, they will, or should, take quick action to clear up any question of who is in charge.

What I see in this great milblogger movement to show the Army who’s boss is not really an attempt to help MSG Grisham.  It seems more like an attempt to prove how powerful the milblogs are.  This is not an exercise in helping MSG Grisham, but in self-aggrandizement.  But the tail will not wag the dog in this instance.  If the milbloggers decide that they are going to use MSG Grisham to prove how great they are, they will plant their flag right though the beating heart of his career.   And, by the way, pointing this out does not mean that I am not sympathetic to MSG Grisham, nor that I think he doesn’t have important things to say.  I simply don’t believe that this is the way to go.  These people will hurt Grisham, not help him, even if they win this particular battle.  But they will certainly feel good about themselves as they do it.  And that seems to be what’s important.

The Obama Administration — Choose ignorance!

Turns out the Obama Administration has been firing experts in the government who come to conclusions they don’t like. This is a bad practice.  Administrations have to take actions that some experts will not like, but explicitly enforcing groupthink is dangerous because it means that those who are left will not tell the truth.  They will find out what they are *supposed* to find, and then find it.  That makes for more pleasant times inside the tent, but it also leads to serious mistakes.

But then, freedom of thought is not of high value in this Administration.

H/T Federation of American Scientists

Hope and Change!
What a disaster.

The advancing police state

Over at Ars Technica, Jon Stokes notes that Sprint …

…has provided GPS location data about its wireless customers to law enforcement over 8 million times. That’s potentially millions of Sprint/Nextel customers who not only were probably unaware that their wireless provider even had an Electronic Surveillance Department, but who certainly did not know that law enforcement offers could log into a special Sprint Web portal and, without ever having to demonstrate probable cause to a judge, gain access to geolocation logs detailing where they’ve been and where they are.

If one extrapolates this to the other major carriers, we are talking about many millions of innocent people who are being tracked by the government. It’s the classic story — give the government a power and it will abuse it. And certainly the phone companies won’t object. It’s a gold mine:

Despite its ease of use, the new technology is proving more expensive than a traditional wiretap. Telecoms charge the government an average of $2,200 for a 30-day CALEA wiretap, while a traditional intercept costs only $250, according to the Justice Department inspector general. A federal wiretap order in 2006 cost taxpayers $67,000 on average, according to the most recent U.S. Court wiretap report.

What’s more, under CALEA, the government had to pay to make pre-1995 phone switches wiretap-friendly. The FBI has spent almost $500 million on that effort, but many traditional wire-line switches still aren’t compliant.

Processing all the phone calls sucked in by DCSNet is also costly. At the backend of the data collection, the conversations and phone numbers are transferred to the FBI’s Electronic Surveillance Data Management System, an Oracle SQL database that’s seen a 62 percent growth in wiretap volume over the last three years — and more than 3,000 percent growth in digital files like e-mail. Through 2007, the FBI has spent $39 million on the system, which indexes and analyzes data for agents, translators and intelligence analysts.

Just wait until the government controls *every* aspect of our lives. With the abominable healthcare bill and the tyrannical cap and trade proposals, that’s exactly what is happening. Of course, it will be for our own good, so it’s all right. Those Founding Fathers and that stupid ideal of individual liberty. How silly.

Hope and Change!