Monday, April 10, 2006

Following Orders

I know the Army isn’t good at a lot of things, like building nations, winning hearts and minds, and sticking to a budget. But I always thought the Army was good in one area: following orders. Sure, we soldiers are a crass bunch of salty mongrels, but when we get a direct order, we follow it right? Not really.

For years now, every person in the Army has had it drilled into him that sexual harassment is absolutely unacceptable. So why is it still so prevalent?

A few weeks ago, I traveled to a remote base in western Iraq. There were only a handful of females and they ran the shower and dining facilities. I asked one female if she had any problems out in the desert among all the rough men. She emphatically replied that no one treated her any differently. Good, I thought.

I was doing a story on the shower facility and all the soldiers I interviewed kept saying how competent their commander was. I’m used to hearing soldiers complain about their commanders so I was impressed and set out to find her.

“Do you know where Capt. L is?” I asked a passing soldier.
“Oh, yeah, she’s the hot one,” he said.
“Do you where she is?”
“Just walk that way until you see a hot captain.”

I laughed a bit because I figured these guys were probably starved for the female form. Out in the middle of the desert surrounded by a bunch of ugly grunts, they had probably built this captain up to be an Aphrodite in carnate. And so I found the comment understandable and not particularly malicious.

When I found Capt. L, she was pretty and, more importantly, very competent. I was impressed with the efficiency in which she ran the logistics for the base. I thought to myself, here is one of the best and brightest of the military. I decided I might do a sidebar personality feature on her because an officer who knows her job is definitely newsworthy these days.

I asked her if she felt she was treated any differently being a female in the remote base. She said definitely not.

I finished up the interview and was about to ask if I could follow her around and gets some photos when a male master sergeant butted in.

“Hey, sergeant T., you should get some photos of her with her top off.”

She blushed and played it off as if it were just part of being in the Army. But I could hear her voice crackle ever so slightly with emotion. All the guys laughed as if it were some clever repartee. I didn’t laugh, she didn’t laugh, and I didn’t dare ask her right after that comment if I could take pictures of her.

The foul minds and untamed tongues of undisciplined soldiers took something innocent and good and made it seem vulgar.

No wonder both females I interviewed denied any different treatment. They probably felt, in a sad and strange way, that they were responsible for the comments and would rather deny the existence of the problem than to talk with some stranger about it.

It’s not OK and it should not be tolerated any more. I’ve assumed that the females are fine with or they would speak up. But that’s not true. I’ve also assumed that I could get in trouble if I call out someone of higher rank than I. This may be true, but I don’t care anymore. The next person I hear sexually harassing a female is going to get a double helping of the wrath of Marshall, which anyone will tell you is not that impressive but it’s the thought that counts.

I will never again tolerate anyone disobeying this order.


Blogger Unknown said...

I applaud your courage for crossing that thin line that divides old fashioned military machismo from civility...

It is unfortunate that some soldiers do not take their female peers or officers seriously... The women might mistakenly equate the sexual remarks as being treated like one of the boys - but this is just not the kind of conduct any male officer would tolerate from his non-coms...

At the end of the day, the female officer needs to put her boot in the ass of the next non-com who makes a smart-aleck remark... It works the same way for young male officers too - if you do not enforce discipline and lead by example, the rank and file will start behaving like a circus.

And by that I mean they'll think clowning around is A-OK - and clowning around is downright stupid in a war zone.

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