Discourage children from joining military without reform

To the editor:

John Stack’s column, “Same Old Boys” in the March 12 Adirondack Daily Enterprise, should be read by every parent of a child considering military service. Stack tells of how a minority in the U.S. Senate filibustered to death Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand’s bill that would have effectively combated a root cause of continuing sexual assaults in the military. Her bill would have taken prosecution of sex crimes out of the hands of unit chains of command and placed them with independent military prosecutors.

Stack correctly points out that military leaders have consistently, since at least the Tailhook scandal of 1991, attempted to downplay and paper over this crisis. Meanwhile, our military women and men (about 50 percent of the victims), in addition to facing the anticipated dangers and drawbacks of military life, face the likelihood they will be sexually assaulted at a rate much higher than in civilian life, and higher than their chances of being killed or wounded in battle. Even worse, in the name of “unit cohesion” (all too often meaning cronyism and sexism), those who do report sexual assaults are often discouraged from pursuing charges, and even punished, to the point of being discharged on trumped-up charges (often without benefits) if they persevere. The excellent documentary film, “The Invisible War,” cites many examples of this, as well as of sexual predators being ignored, slapped on the wrist and even promoted after their accusers were driven from the service.

It is clear that we cannot trust our military establishment to protect innocent or punish the guilty members in matters relating to sexual assault. It is equally clear that Congress cannot presently be trusted to enact real reforms.

Fortunately, we citizens do have recourse. While parents cannot prevent 18-and-above children from enlisting, they can do their best to inform and to discourage them from joining up. Other relatives, friends and spouses, can do the same. High school and college teachers and guidance counselors have an obligation to advise students of both opportunities and dangers of the post-graduation world. Likewise the media.

I suggest that we all owe it to young women and men considering the military to ask them:

1. Do you know about the high likelihood of rape and sexual assault in the military?

2. Do you know that the military chain of command frequently punishes victims who report crimes and protects their attackers?

3. Are you sure you want to put yourself at the mercy of such a system?

During the the worst stages of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, partly due to the fears of family and friends, the quantity and quality of military recruits dropped to unsustainable levels. As a result, changes were made.

I know I will discourage my own of and under military age from considering a military career until reforms similar to Sen. Gillibrand’s are enacted and effectively enforced.

Sincerely,

Phil Newton

Vietnam veteran

Retired, U.S. Army Reserve

Saranac Lake