Thursday, June 25, 2009

Potemkin Villages and the Army: or, How The Army Mimics Soviet Russia

Back in the late 1700s, Empress Catherine of Russia toured the Crimea, her new conquest, with a large slew of ambassadors, etc. To impress her and them with how valuable and well developed it was, her military advisor, Grigory Potyomkin, created fake villages along the way-with fires erected in towns no better than stage sets in the distance, to make them look more real.

This plan was adopted by the USSR, when it came to power-visitors, especially from America, who were communist- or socialist- leaning were often shown to specific villages, towns, factories, etc, and told they were typical of their kind in the Soviet Union. In reality, they had been fictitiously constructed or exaggerated to appear the model of happiness and ease, to try to convince the visitors that the system worked.

How is this like the US Army, you ask? Well, yesterday my unit got a visit from the Sergeant Major of the Army, SMA Preston, as well as the Sergeant Major of USAREUR, CSM Beam. They came, ostensibly to view the unit and see how the wounded warriors were doing. I think it's very likely that our unit, and the soldiers who were present, were presented as typical of a WTU, and typical of the soldiers who are there.

The reality, of course, is very different. Our unit has the most luxurious and fully sponsored barracks. The rooms which look so beautiful, far from being available to all soldiers of the kind, are fairly unique. In addition, the mere suggestion of such a visit stops the functioning of a unit-the kitchen was locked up so that no one could use it and potentially make a mess, the laundry room was carefully tidied and soldiers were instructed not to wash clothes-barely to breathe. And the soldiers, of course, were prettied up too. Political dissidents such as myself were hidden away and instructed not to talk to the sergeant majors. A soldier with a soft-shoe profile from injury was instructed to put on boots, as the sergeant majors wouldn't want to see any tennis shoes. A soldier who chose the option not to wear his combat patch as he didn't believe in it anymore was kept away as well-not even an IVAW member, just a regular joe who happened to be frustrated.

The soldiers, far from being typical of our unit, were very carefully chosen. Those who might have issues with how things were being run were also told to stay away-as was a female Military Sexual Trauma victim who had expressed that she felt discriminated against and harassed within the unit.

We were a Potemkin village. A village of happy soldiers who still believe in Army Justice. A village of happy soldiers who still think that our leadership cares about the soldier instead of their own promotions. A village primarily made up of those who might not show leadership that people who are different exist.

I will only say that when people get that out of touch with realities of what they are leading, major problems arise. Our military leadership are the new kings, isolated from the common people and unable to appreciate their views or ideas. Isolated, too, from the democracy and ideals we are all sworn to protect-long-time followers will recognize CSM Beam as one of the individuals who expressed so much interest in my political thought.

It does not serve anyone well-either the Army, the soldiers, higher leadership, or the American public.

Friday, June 19, 2009

The "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" Experiment, and other updates.

Well, the experiment of tracking how much I mentioned my significant other in conversations with other military members is over. The numbers may seem high, but this is primarily because I counted each use of the word or the male pronoun in the conversation. For example, if I said something like, "I really need to talk to X before I respond to this..he's much more practical than I am, and he might have some really good ideas", instead of counting that as 1 instance of talking about it, I would count it as 3-one use of the name and two uses of the male pronoun when talking about someone I'm involved with. "Men, can't live with them, can't live without them" would count as one mention of my heterosexual orientation.

The results are: 1 two hour conversation during which I did not keep track, and 94 incidental mentions over a five day period.

None of these were sexual. At no time did I mention any sort of sexual thoughts about the individual-and I suspect our quiet gay servicemembers wouldn't either, if they were allowed to speak. It was simply the running thoughts that happened to go through my head-the privilege, as you will, that I have had of being able to speak about my relationship and my orientation. The privilege that currently serving gay servicemembers do not have.

In other news, I've been informed that it's entirely possible that my planned and deeply necessary leave may be interfered with or denied because the command which is trying to punish me for my political views may want to hastily speed my actions forward, and not want to see me go anywhere during the process, despite the fact that the regulation allows for it, and despite the fact that this thing has been hovering for about four months. However, don't worry, guys..I am aware that I have lots of legal recourse if they do try anything (having a military lawyer helps out immensely), and I've already informed my first sergeant that I plan to fight this one out to the bitter end. It's so messed up it's almost funny-I'm in many ways being treated more harshly for being a prominent member of the IVAW and for having political opinions different than the majority than other soldiers have been for actual criminal offenses. Soldiers beating their wives, soldiers drinking and driving, soldiers committing assaults on other soldiers...all of these things pale next to the deadly crime of daring to have your own thoughts.

It's also kind of funny in a sad way. They want to say that I don't listen to Army things, but let's take a look at the rules these officers themselves are sworn to uphold...such as, say, the officers creed.

To this end... I will exercise the authority intrusted to me by the President and the Congress with fairness, justice, patience, and restraint, respecting the dignity and human rights of others and devoting myself to the welfare of those placed under my command.

Anyone who thinks that my dignity and human rights have been respected by this process, please raise your hand. I have a bridge in Brooklyn I would like to sell you.

In all my actions I will put loyalty to the highest moral principles and the United States of America above loyalty to organizations, persons, and my personal interest.

In all of their actions they will put loyalty to the highest moral principles and the good US of A above personal loyalties. That would be great, wouldn't it? Because loyalty to the US of A transcends mere politics. It certainly transcends political criticism-rights that were provided for in the Constitution we swore to defend and also in the documents of the founding fathers.

These officers, if they allow my political opinions to influence their actions, will be deying their oath and acting only according to their own personal dictates.

I, in all of my actions, have acted to uphold my oath both as an NCO and to the Constitution. The Constitution created by men who believed that dissent was not only acceptable but crucial to a functioning democracy.

I wonder, if these officers do what they threaten, if they'll be able to do the same?

Sunday, June 14, 2009

In Honor of LGBT Month...

Some of you may already know that President Obama, earlier this month, declared June to be Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Pride Month, in honor of the Stonewall riots.

NOW, THEREFORE, I, BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim June 2009 as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Pride Month. I call upon the people of the United States to turn back discrimination and prejudice everywhere it exists.

I wonder if we're going to be starting with the military? I also would like to point out that I haven't seen any LGBT celebrations this month. Usually the military celebrates whatever month it is with some kind of party and speakers. I suspect June is going to be rather low-key.

President Obama mentions in his proclamation his support for ending Don't Ask, Don't Tell.

Here at home, I continue to support measures to bring the full spectrum of equal rights to LGBT Americans. These measures include enhancing hate crimes laws, supporting civil unions and Federal rights for LGBT couples, outlawing discrimination in the workplace, ensuring adoption rights, and ending the existing "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy in a way that strengthens our Armed Forces and our national security.

Now, I have long been a supporter of ending Don't Ask, Don't Tell. I grew up in NYC, and never really thought much about someone's sexuality. But I've been, to be honest, a fairly passive supporter.

A good friend of mine and fellow IVAW member, Jen Hogg, brought to me a point I hadn't considered: that the way I felt being politically repressed is much the way many gay people serving in the military feel about Don't Ask, Don't Tell. I thought about it, and realized that she was somewhat right-sometimes I feel absolutely bursting to talk about my political opinion. But after a little more reflection, I realized she just wasn't right enough. I'm pretty sure I talk about the guy I'm romantically involved with, at least in passing, more than I talk about my political opinion.

So, in honor of LGBT month, I'm going to do an experiment for the week. I'm going to carry around a little notepad, and every time I mention one of the following to a military person or civilian contractor working for the military, I'm going to make a tickmark.
1) The fact that I like men and find them attractive.
2) The name of the guy I'm involved with.
3) Any shared commiserations about men

I'm going to keep a separate notepad for all the times I either talk about my politics concerning Iraq, or am tempted to do so but choose not to.

I strongly suspect that at the end of the week, the first notepad will wind up being larger, but we'll see.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

What's With The Double Standards?

Though the story has not yet gone public, this isn't a good time for milblogger's freedom of speech. I myself am facing potential charges for having a different political opinion than some of my leadership believes I should, and another milblogger who shall remain nameless is as well. Certain prominent milblogs, especially ones from Iraq and Afghanistan, have been removed-Pink's War, Big Tobacco, and LT G among them. Too much honesty, too much humor, too much reality. Too much free thinking.

In something straight out of Joseph Heller, however, at the same time that some are getting in trouble for voicing opinions, the Army has apparently decided that it wants to hear Soldier's stories on social networking sites. As the article says..

The commander said the unblocking of some social networking sites was in keeping with direction from Army senior leaders to have Soldiers tell the Army story.

"This order first and foremost is about establishing web-filtering standards. However, it was crafted deliberately to meet the intent of Secretary of the Army and the Chief of Staff of the Army, who are encouraging Soldiers to tell their stories and maintain contact with the American people. Leveraging social media is an effective way to tell the Army story."

Hey, you know what's another effective way to tell the Army story?


I'm just saying. FYI. This buck sergeant's view.

In other news, I got my promotion counseling today, on why I'm not going to make staff. One part of it's fair-my PTSD has gotten out of control a couple times over the lat few months, and I do need to work on that. The other part of it, though, really ticks me off. Because I'm flagged.

Why am I flagged? Well, given that it happened the day after I accepted the IVAW appointment to the Board of Directors, some people might be excused for thinking the two are linked. Supposedly, some sort of investigation was opened. However, I can't tell you for sure why I'm flagged. Why's that? Because I haven't gotten a single piece of paper telling me about it. How did I find out? By taking a peek at my ERB. Yay, Army.

There's also some dispute about whether or not you can take leave while flagged, which tells me that no one's read AR 600-8-2 in a while. The answer for those of you following at home, is that you're not allowed to take ADVANCE or EXCESS leave, but you are allowed to take REGULAR leave, because regular leave is not a "favorable personnel action", it's something you earn.

If you can't tell, I'm a bit frustrated with the situation right now.