Good Leadership Leads by Example, Not by Coercion

This past week, presumably in response to the deadly attack in Kabul that killed 13 troops, the Chief of Staff of the Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI) reminded active-duty members of their Article 88 responsibilities under the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ), that they are not allowed to “disrespect” senior government leadership. ONI rules also prohibit retired military members from the same offense.

Damn. How bad must it be if one of the deepest of deep state entities has to remind its active duty and retired military members to hold their tongues? Really, how bad is it?

Normally, when the Commander-in-Chief and the Executive Branch of the government are respected, when the troops have faith that their elected leaders (and their appointees) will keep faith with them, then such a reminder is not necessary.

In March 1993, just under two months after inauguration, President Bill Clinton visited the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS THEODORE ROOSEVELT (CVN-71). The aircraft carrier began a six-month deployment from Norfolk Naval Station just the day before. Given Clinton’s protests against the Vietnam War (some of which were overseas) and his lack of military service, his announced visit was not very popular among the members of the ship’s crew and embarked carrier airwing.

Remember also, Clinton had narrowly defeated President George H.W. Bush (who was a decorated U.S. Navy veteran of WWII) by securing the Electoral College votes but earning less than 50% of the country’s popular vote. He had no mandate, and he did not have the military’s trust. The military was wary of the young, newly inaugurated president.

For that reason, all embarked military personnel were given direct orders that we would not speak disrespectfully of the new president. I was there. I remember it well.

Is that a surprise to non-veterans? People in the military, having taken an oath to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States and, by extension, every citizen’s Constitutional right to freedom of speech, are not allowed to exercise that same right while they wear the uniform. Article 88 of the UCMJ confirms it.

Here’s the real problem though: It is not a good indicator when troops must be reminded that they are not allowed to speak critically about the military’s civilian leadership. It is not a good sign when a USMC Lieutenant Colonel feels compelled by the horrible events in Afghanistan to speak out publicly and risk ending what has otherwise been a successful career of faithful, war-time military service. The leadership is failing when the leadership resorts to coercion, makes examples of dedicated and deeply concerned leaders, and threatens punitive action if one dares ask tough questions and speak the truth.

Lieutenant Colonel Matthew Lohmeier, USAF, and Lieutenant Colonel Stuart Scheller, USMC, can now be listed among those patriots who have pledged their “lives, fortunes, and sacred honor” to the American citizenry and those core values that have defined their military service. Why has speaking the truth, and doing so with the service branch’s best long-term interest in mind, become a career-ending decision?

It is curious, isn’t it? None of these “reminders” were issued while President Trump held office. Then, there were no prohibitions against an active-duty military member’s “disrespect” to “government officials.” No, those people (for example, Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman) were “whistleblowers” with only the highest conceivable, most earnest, and most honorable of intentions to save the Republic from the bad orange man.

A few months ago, I asked, “Where are the Admirals? Where are the Generals? Where are my Fellow Veterans?” as I wrote about Critical Race Theory infecting the merit-based culture that is vital to our armed forces. The same question could be asked again, in the present context of the debacle that is America’s withdrawal from Afghanistan. It is truly a sad embarrassment, and now it is a deadly tragedy and insufferable loss to the families of the 13 who died.

Aside from those who have made public statements, I must assume that most of the military leadership is pragmatic in its approach to this challenge. After all, if they all quit for the same or similar reasons of conscience, then only those who are in lockstep with current initiatives will remain, and we will be lost. By remaining at their post, and at the helm, they will provide the continuity our country needs for our military to be able to fight and win.

It is a conundrum I can scarcely imagine, but sometimes people must make choices. One or two O-5s will not be enough to alert the national consciousness to the grave threat facing our military culture and the erosion of their core values of “Honor, Courage, and Commitment” (US Navy).

Lt. Col. Scheller clearly identified himself in his video and, by doing so, he knew he would be held accountable. He knew his actions were a risk to continued service to our country, which he clearly holds dear. But he said, “What you believe in can only be defined by what you are willing to risk.” He expected to be held accountable by his senior leadership, but he expected those who were responsible for the deaths of “his” Marines to demand the same accountability of themselves. That is the embodiment of "servant leadership" and the ethos of leadership instilled in every United States Marine Corps officer.

When I graduated from Aviation Officer Candidate School in Pensacola, Florida, in March 1987, each newly commissioned officer received a personal, and personalized, gift from the Chief Drill Instructor, a USMC Master Gunnery Sergeant who was, without a doubt, the most intense and intimidating man I have ever met. He told us during our check-in process that it was his intent to make the next fourteen weeks “the most arduous experience of your lives.” He, and the cadre of USMC Drill Instructors whom he supervised, succeeded in doing so, but in so doing they transformed us into the men and women who would have the confidence to face the challenges ahead.

The Chief Drill Instructor presented each of us with a card, a keepsake, that says:

You can divide Naval Officers into two classes: Pretenders and Contenders. The Pretenders are the ones who never sacrifice themselves. They will never understand the meaning of ‘total dedication,’ therefore they will never taste the glory. The Contenders are the ones who demand of themselves the absolute maximum limit and are willing to pay that price. They will be able to catch the glory. Life is that way. There are Pretenders and Contenders. The question is – Which one are you?

Lt.Col. Lohmeier and Lt. Col. Scheller are Contenders. I shall follow their example of dedication to the eternal and timeless principles that are the hallmarks of service, achievement, and personal sacrifice.

To our Admirals, our Generals, and those elected or appointed to serve—which one are you? Your country is counting on you to be the “Contenders” in a swamp full of “Pretenders.”

Every American also needs to stand and be counted. “Which one are you?”

Jeff M. Lewis is a Christian, a husband and father, a Veteran, and a small-business owner from South Texas.

Image: Lt. Col. Stuart Scheller takes a stand. YouTube screen grab.

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