Service reputation

I have the honor to be a graduate of the United States Naval Academy Class of 1967, which counts among its members Assistant Secretary of State Richard Armitage, Secretary of Veterans Affairs Tony Principi, Deputy Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Peter Pace, and many other distinguished flag officers.  We also count in our number John O'Neill, whose book Unfit For Command is the cause and subject of much political controversy these days. 

Lost in the political sturm und drang, the back and forth charges and recriminations about John Kerry's Viet Nam service, is an important concept which may help explain why this argument is important in helping voters determine the fitness of the candidates.  That concept is known in the military as a person's "service reputation."

Broadly defined, it is the collective judgment about one's abilities, character, and judgment by his peers, superiors, and subordinates.  More honest and accurate than laudatory adjectives on a fitness report or hyperbole in a medal citation, it is the true measure of a man by the people who know him the best.

For those not in the military there is a similar phenomenon.  Around the water cooler, in the cockpit, and on the assembly lines, people know who the slackers are and who are the reliable ones, who the back—stabbing climbers and who the sturdy dependable mainstays. In the famed Patrick O'Brian Master and Commander series, the character Stephen Maturin observes that he has never found the judgment of villagers about one of their own to be wrong.

In the crucible of combat, this judgment is even more acute and important, as office politics and personality go out the window, and presence of mind, judgment, and physical and moral courage become all—important.  It is no accident that many of our presidents from Washington to Kennedy have been combat veterans or famous war leaders. 

It is in this context that the present argument takes on so much importance.  It appears from the statements of the officers who served with John Kerry that he had a very poor service reputation. The men in his boat, who have become adjuncts to his campaign, may properly have their motives and judgment questioned.  But it is hard to escape the conclusion that his peers, the ones who served most closely with him, have a very negative view of him and his leadership abilities and loyalty.  The only question I may have is whether this judgment is colored too much by what he did to dishonor them once he returned to civilian life.

John Kerry has made his service in the Navy and Viet Nam the centerpiece of his rationale for why voters should choose him for President.  If my vote was based on that fact alone, my understanding of his service and the judgment of those who served so long ago with him would tell me there's no way I could support him.   

Norman Hapke is a director of the Jacobs Family Foundation

I have the honor to be a graduate of the United States Naval Academy Class of 1967, which counts among its members Assistant Secretary of State Richard Armitage, Secretary of Veterans Affairs Tony Principi, Deputy Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Peter Pace, and many other distinguished flag officers.  We also count in our number John O'Neill, whose book Unfit For Command is the cause and subject of much political controversy these days. 

Lost in the political sturm und drang, the back and forth charges and recriminations about John Kerry's Viet Nam service, is an important concept which may help explain why this argument is important in helping voters determine the fitness of the candidates.  That concept is known in the military as a person's "service reputation."

Broadly defined, it is the collective judgment about one's abilities, character, and judgment by his peers, superiors, and subordinates.  More honest and accurate than laudatory adjectives on a fitness report or hyperbole in a medal citation, it is the true measure of a man by the people who know him the best.

For those not in the military there is a similar phenomenon.  Around the water cooler, in the cockpit, and on the assembly lines, people know who the slackers are and who are the reliable ones, who the back—stabbing climbers and who the sturdy dependable mainstays. In the famed Patrick O'Brian Master and Commander series, the character Stephen Maturin observes that he has never found the judgment of villagers about one of their own to be wrong.

In the crucible of combat, this judgment is even more acute and important, as office politics and personality go out the window, and presence of mind, judgment, and physical and moral courage become all—important.  It is no accident that many of our presidents from Washington to Kennedy have been combat veterans or famous war leaders. 

It is in this context that the present argument takes on so much importance.  It appears from the statements of the officers who served with John Kerry that he had a very poor service reputation. The men in his boat, who have become adjuncts to his campaign, may properly have their motives and judgment questioned.  But it is hard to escape the conclusion that his peers, the ones who served most closely with him, have a very negative view of him and his leadership abilities and loyalty.  The only question I may have is whether this judgment is colored too much by what he did to dishonor them once he returned to civilian life.

John Kerry has made his service in the Navy and Viet Nam the centerpiece of his rationale for why voters should choose him for President.  If my vote was based on that fact alone, my understanding of his service and the judgment of those who served so long ago with him would tell me there's no way I could support him.   

Norman Hapke is a director of the Jacobs Family Foundation