Speaking Up Honestly In The Military Can At Times Be Costly – Part 2

Your Turn


Last week we were talking about making a choice between earning brownie points in the military by staying quiet, or speaking up and taking your lumps. I left off where I was told by two admin clerks — and their five-stripe boss — that I was going to Korea or Iceland. I kept telling them the manual said that during peacetime no one could be assigned to two isolated areas in a row, and I had been to Iceland on my last tour.

They didn’t want to listen. In fact, no one in that %$#@! office was a good listener, including the first sergeant, which convinced me there was something going on. At a time like that you have two choices. Stand up like a man and demand that Air Force policy be followed, or knuckle under and let them repay you with a phony overblown performance report so you can get promoted and become one of them.

No thanks. I filed a written complaint.

It didn’t win me any points, but it put a crimp in their crooked little game.

Turns out the “clerks” were not clerks. They were men in my own career field who had been siphoned off to work in the office. They, themselves, were the two most eligible men in the outfit for overseas shipment. Clerk A went to Korea, Clerk B went to Iceland, and I went to Japan, from which point I won an assignment to Karachi and met my beloved wife.

There is, you see, a God. And the Air Force ain’t bad either.

I was still young, and wondered whether the whole service was like that, but I’m happy to tell you it wasn’t. The overwhelming majority of people served with honor, but there were a few ...

I had to take on a hospital commander who thought he had a great way to keep people from using sick call during an emergency. If you came in after duty hours more than twice in some given period of time you had to fill out a form and sign a statement. Purely by coincidence, three genuine family emergencies occurred. Each time we called and were told to come in.

The third time, my son David was opening his toy chest and the lid fell and crushed his thumb. I called. They told us to come in. Then some first lieutenant nurse shoved a paper in my face and said I had to sign it before David would be seen.

Bad mistake. 

“I’m not signing any form. You told me to bring him in. Are you going to treat him or not?”

“Sign the form, sergeant!!”

“I’ll tell you what, why don’t we do this? You just tell me and my wife that you refuse to treat David, and we’ll leave.”

Aha! Big change! In we went. The pediatrician, a major and a fine doctor, quietly told me I had done the right thing. He hated that rule too.

The next day the hospital commander, a lieutenant colonel, called me in and attempted to chew me out. Also a mistake. The result was that he was told by the base commander to rescind his policy. The base commander, you see, flew an aircraft, not a desk. It makes a difference.

I even had to take on my own squadron commander one time. He signed a squadron regulation saying if you got a ticket on base he would take your driver’s license. I got a ticket. The first sergeant told me to hand over my license. I told him the commander hadn’t issued the license and had no authority to take it. Then came the hearing about the ticket — with my squadron commander, no less.

I won. The ticket was supposed to be for parking between two signs that said no parking between them. I showed that I had no way of knowing there was no parking there. Why? Because the way I drove in every day I passed no sign. Why? There was only one sign. They hadn’t put up the second one.

“Oh,” Colonel Bleep said, “in that case you’re obviously not guilty.”

“Thank you, sir.”

“Well, Sergeant Garrett, I’m glad we got that settled. I had heard that you had quite a different reason for challenging the ticket.”

I could have just kept my mouth shut. Right? I didn’t. Why? Because it was true and I was not going to lie. I repeated what I had said before. He got mad. Very mad. But you know what I told him? “Sir, this is the military. You and I are not in combat right now, but that day could come. If it does, what kind of NCO do you want fighting next to you? Some yes-man or someone with the guts to stand up and be counted?”

That cost me a promotion, which told me his answer. However, he quietly rescinded his illegal regulation.

Bottom line, Johnny? If you haven’t got any guts, you don’t belong in a uniform.


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