Today, I’m deeply troubled by what is happening in our country. I’m deeply troubled by our nation’s continued struggle with systemic racial and ethnic injustice. I’m deeply troubled by what I perceive to be the politicization of an institution, the United States Military, I so proudly served in for over a quarter of a century. I’m deeply troubled by our Secretary of Defense referring to protest sites as “battlespace” that have to be “dominated.” And, I’m deeply troubled by the continuing discussion of deploying active duty military forces to our nation’s capital and other major metropolitan areas without the request being made by the state’s governor. I’m sure many of you are deeply troubled too, likely for different reasons, of which I respect, but deeply troubled, nevertheless.
Forty-three years ago this month at my U.S. Army commissioning ceremony, I solemnly swore that I would support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I would bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I would take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I would well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I was about to enter. So, help me God. Over my 26 years of service, I affirmed that oath on several occasions.
I was apolitical. I never discussed with nor asked members of my various units their party affiliations. Being apolitical was and is an important value resident in our military culture, and frankly, expressing party affiliation just didn’t matter. My Commander in Chief was just that. He was at the very top of the chain of command and it was inconsequential whether he was a Republican or Democrat. My unit’s orders flowed from him. After retiring from the Army, I continued my apolitical practice when I led multiple companies as a business unit president in a billion-dollar corporation. Today, many of my cohorts who served at cabinet level or four-star Senate confirmed positions are sounding the alarm, cautioning that our military’s apolitical culture is being challenged. We should listen to them and note their concern.
Several decades ago, I was the Army’s subject matter expert on civil disturbances. I wrote doctrine and taught active duty forces, national guard, and federal law enforcement agencies on the tactics, techniques and procedures used to control crowds and identify and arrest bad actors who fomented violence embedded among peaceful protestors. Core to the instruction was the use of measured force in achieving given objectives. Teaching measured force is quite easy in a classroom setting; the practice of it is wholly different when your unit is tasked to control a loud, boisterous crowd of thousands. Inject a few violent actors in the crowd, and the decision to escalate the use of force becomes increasingly difficult. What do you do when you observe a violent actor in the middle of a sea of peaceful protestors? What is the appropriate measured force used to extract the violent actor? These are the difficult, real life, situations we are asking our men and women in blue and guardsmen to address. I’m confident they can and will, but they need our support and understanding on just how challenging and demanding a job we have given them.
Twenty years ago, I commanded the only Military Police paratrooper brigade in the U.S. Army. Undoubtedly, these troops are on a string now to deploy if ordered by the President. These soldiers are highly skilled and extremely motivated. Think of the best police force you know on steroids. They’re trained to operate in the most dangerous situations and because of their leadership, mobility, communication capabilities, and lethality, easily dominate any urban battlespace. They’re one of the first units to deploy to international hotspots and most assuredly will route out insurgents and quell any uprising, but not without cost. They are one of many solutions our Nation has to engage opposing forces and restore peace.
But deploying them to an international hotspot is very different than deploying them to Los Angeles. Hunting down insurgents and quelling uprisings is very different than arresting looters and controlling peaceful protestors. LAPD is not there to dominate the Los Angeles battlespace nor are the California National Guardsmen. Using these terms is inappropriate; terms that are normally associated with the word enemy and pockets of insurgents, not citizens and peaceful protestors. The mission of police and guardsmen is to respect the sanctity of life and protect citizens, safeguard commercial businesses and residential property, and arrest those violent and non-violent actors committing criminal acts using the minimum force necessary. Only when they can’t succeed in performing this mission should you deploy active duty military like paratroopers from Fort Bragg. A solution such as this must be one of last resort after reasoned and thoughtful consideration of the outcome.
I’m deeply troubled by what is happening in our country, as I know you are too. But I’m also very optimistic that this moment in crisis will make us a much better Nation. The troubling parts we are experiencing are forcing conversations we have long been avoiding. Leadership is about stepping into the arena, having that conversation, then creating solutions. As I have written in past columns, change requires being so dissatisfied with the present conditions, and having a vision that leads to a better place and the will to take the first step in achieving it. I believe we as a nation are very dissatisfied with the present conditions and I’m optimistic that a vision forward will emerge. It will be up to each of us to take those first steps, committed to being part of the solution and not the problem.