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    Council Member Rob Thornton's Avatar
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    Oct 2006
    Fort Leavenworth, KS

    Default A Well of Courage

    There is a story carried in today's Washington Post entitled "A Soldier's Officer".

    Washington Post
    December 2, 2007
    Pg. 1

    'A Soldier's Officer'

    By Dana Priest and Anne Hull, Washington Post Staff Writers

    In a nondescript conference room at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, 1st Lt. Elizabeth Whiteside listened last week as an Army prosecutor outlined the criminal case against her in a preliminary hearing. The charges: attempting suicide and endangering the life of another soldier while serving in Iraq.

    Her hands trembled as Maj. Stefan Wolfe, the prosecutor, argued that Whiteside, now a psychiatric outpatient at Walter Reed, should be court-martialed. After seven years of exemplary service, the 25-year-old Army reservist faces the possibility of life in prison if she is tried and convicted.

    Military psychiatrists at Walter Reed who examined Whiteside after she recovered from her self-inflicted gunshot wound diagnosed her with a severe mental disorder, possibly triggered by the stresses of a war zone. But Whiteside's superiors considered her mental illness "an excuse" for criminal conduct, according to documents obtained by The Washington Post.

    At the hearing, Wolfe, who had already warned Whiteside's lawyer of the risk of using a "psychobabble" defense, pressed a senior psychiatrist at Walter Reed to justify his diagnosis.

    "I'm not here to play legal games," Col. George Brandt responded angrily, according to a recording of the hearing. "I am here out of the genuine concern for a human being that's breaking and that is broken. She has a severe and significant illness. Let's treat her as a human being, for Christ's sake!".....
    At one point, Elizabeth Whiteside almost accepted the Army's offer to resign in lieu of court-martial. But it meant she would have to explain for the rest of her life why she was not given an honorable discharge. Her attorney also believed that she would have been left without the medical care and benefits she needed....
    "This superior officer is in the top 10 percent of Officers I have worked with in my 16 years of military service," wrote her rater, Capt. Joel Grant. She "must be promoted immediately, ahead of all peers."

    Maj. Sandra Hersh, her senior rater, added: "She's a Soldier's Officer. . . . She is able to get the best from Soldiers and make it look easy."
    Much More at either the Washington Post site, or the Earlybird. The Washington Post online requires member Login - but here is the Earlybird link for those with access.

    This is a complicated issue - and I'd say up front to try and get you hands on the complete article before commenting. I posted this because I think it provides us an opportunity to discuss several things about people in war. Here you have a leader who by many accounts was outstanding - then one day, something changed, and she was no longer the same person she had been - at least for a time, she lost control of the reason that had served her and those she led so well.

    I once heard a quote attributed to Audie Murphy - I'm sorry I could not find it, so I'll have to para-phrase: "Every man has a well of courage that he can go to, some are deeper then others." I did however find a great site with quotes on courage at the Quote Garden.

    I think it highlights the kind of extreme questions that our military doesn't have to face (certainly not on a large scale) except in war - lots here to talk about. I'm not entirely comfortable with the way in which the article portrays the military justice system - it my opinion it ignores that our military justice system exists to ensure good order and discipline within the military, and that the arguments that come before it often decide far wider ranging issues - as such I think the article is incomplete in that regard.

    However, the article does a good job of raising the issue of how we assess, regard, and care for those with injuries we can't readily assess. MTBI (Mild Traumatic Brain Injury) is not part of the article as far as I know (it does not say if perhaps LT Whiteside ever suffered the type of effects that might lead to MTBI) - but yet many veterans will come home with MTBI that may lead to them exhibiting symptoms of mental illness that in the future may effect them in execution of their military responsibilities, familial, or as a citizen). Our health care system (from culture of the patient to long term care) seems unprepared to meet those challenges - based on the nature of the injuries and the symptoms. Since these types of injuries and illnesses are most prevalent with large scale trauma - the type we would expect to find in war - it would be difficult to design, prepare or sustain a system that would do so prior to war. I'd caveat this by saying that we are learning very fast, and talking to nurses and doctors here in attendance at ILE - there is a great deal of concern, debate, thinking and action regarding ensuring our soldiers get the best care possible - but also that it is contingent on better understanding the causes and effects which lead to treatment options.

    The broader context:

    We now face a prognosis that the next decades will include persistent conflict, distinguished by more frequent and intense periods of war. ADM Mullen, the CJCS was reported as recently recognizing that in front of an audience at the AWC. What may make this different then say the conflict that persisted throughout the subsequent decades is that the interests of the United States and its allies will be challenged and require U.S. military forces to be deployed to defend those interests. Its expected that it will be violent for some time to come.

    I know there are SWC members who will ask how we could commit ourselves to something like OIF again in the immediate future given the domestic political issues we currently face. I'd ask us to consider a few things.

    First, I don't think policy makers adequately consider or understand the role chance plays in the commitment of military forces - meaning what you (decision makers) sign up for is probably not always what you get, and that in the interest of pursuing a short term solution, it is easy to lose sight of the long term consequences - as such initial military advice is sometimes abandoned in favor of the decision to pursue the political objective. This is how our system works - the executive and the legislative must accept the risk of using any instrument of national power - but the consequences of military power have a physical manifestation unlike the others.

    Second and in relation, I'd say that somethings are going to require the use of military power. This might be an anticipated and developed use of military power, or it might be an unexpected and undeveloped use of military power - might be anywhere in-between. When vital interests are jeopardized by violence on a scale where you might be faced with an existential threat; the existential threat of a friend and ally critical to your state's long term health and goals; or as part of a response that initially did not look to be likely to develop into war (response to large scale natural disaster as an example), but then as conditions change our commitments change.

    I know I deviated from the initial, surface thrust and questions posed by the article, but I think we have to consider the issue of courage in war in the larger context of our commitments to the citizens who serve in war as a means to achieve some political end. War is going to be with us whether a person/candidate has an interest in war or not. There are going to be casualties of the type (and not just the individual casualties, but certain ideas as well) the article references and its going to affect our social character. Put another way, the political decisions which lead us to war are going to produce all types of casualties which will have effects on domestic issues as well as FP issues.

    A final note on courage - I've been reading Slim's "Defeat into Victory". The magazine Armchair General recently did a section on Slim. On pg. 58 in an article by Frederick Baillergeon, there is a box with the caption: Slim On Leadership. In it, the first quality slim speaks to is Courage, "It (Courage) is the military virtue without which none of the other virtues can exist." I think the way Slim characterized courage is of immense value to us - decisions in war always have consequences, and there must be courage to make them, and courage in the face of the consequences which follow.

    Best Regards, Rob
    Last edited by Rob Thornton; 12-02-2007 at 04:00 PM.


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