The Distrust In The Military

Posted by Michael Babker on

My time in the US Army was easily one of the most rewarding experiences I will ever have in my life; it forced me to mature quicker than I may have wanted to, it enabled me to travel and enjoy a small portion of what the world offers, and it helped me to find something I was truly passionate about in development. Even with all of the good things that came about from that experience, the fact is that there is quite a bit about the military culture that isn't as great as people would like to believe. A recent story going around the internet highlights one of the issues plaguing the military service; a distrust of those you serve with.

The "Hot" Story

At some point during my last unit's deployment to Afghanistan, my company's Rear Detachment NCOIC had sent an e-mail to several Soldiers after finding a post on Facebook which she found offensive and contradictory to the Army Values and how we as Soldiers are trained to behave. Many, including myself while I wore those boots, will argue that what you say or do during your off time is your own opinion and isn't something the military has control over. The fact of the matter is that you really don't have the full freedom of speech as guaranteed by the First Amendment while you're serving. The content that was published, based on what I've heard and read of the incident was very negative of barracks life in the military and involved people wearing the uniform in the content; their actions by displaying their military affiliation through wearing the uniform or what was on their Facebook profiles is a representation of the military and any leader who would address that issue is in the right frame of mind to do so. Ironically, many don't, for one reason or another.

The Department of Defense recently decided to recognize 1SG Katrina Moerk, the Soldier who addressed the negative behavior. Immediately, a majority of Soldiers in channels I still follow went on the offensive and called her out for the manner in which she handled the situation. 1SG responded via a blog post (note: this links to the Google cache due to her marking the blog as private, availability isn't guaranteed) to some of the stronger commentary. The long and short of it is that this entire situation and the commentary in some of those same channels demonstrates there are still a lot of trust issues in a line of work way of life where trust is a foundation of what we do on a daily basis.

Trust Issues

In my own career, I was generally lucky enough to work with smaller circles of Soldiers who looked out for one another. Over that same period of time though, I saw a lot of Soldiers who I had a difficult time trusting; seniors, peers, and subordinates alike. These individuals had clearly demonstrated that their careers or their individual needs took precedence to the extent of creating a negative environment. They had spoken in a manner that said "I can be trusted" but acted in a manner which made anyone who paid attention question them.

The distrust I saw in the military environment that I had made my life has affected me for the worse. It's instilled in me a belief that it's hard to trust people, and it reflects in my behaviors. There are truly only a small handful of individuals I have a true sense of trust with, most of whom not affiliated with the military. I've never openly admitted this before, but my worst feeling of trust while I was in the service came during my deployment to Afghanistan; in an environment where trust is at its highest requirements, I had the most difficulties putting any trust (for my military career or my life) in many of their hands.

The Perceptions

Personally, I didn't have this type of mistrusting relationship with 1SG Moerk. Truthfully, I didn't work directly with her often enough to gauge her personality or character at the same level of detail that others who I spent the final year of my military career working with had. However, if I were still in the military service and were either in her current unit or an inbound Sergeant and knew nothing of her but what I've read from this story, I would have trust issues with her as a leader. One action specifically in response to the issue raises a big concern with me (and it is an action she noted in her blog (prior to it being marked private) that might not have been the best idea); her sending a Courtesy Copy of the e-mail to the director of the Army's SHARPprogram. If I did not know her and was only judging her on this story, it would raise a red flag with me as a Soldier and Noncommissioned Officer, an individual expected to lead and mentor Soldiers. That action alerts me that she might not be able to resolve issues at her leadership level or needs reinforcement to convey a message. With this perception, how can I as a subordinate to her within her unit entrust her after this incident to advise the commanding officer on matters pertaining to the Soldiers or to "take care" of her troops when it seems like she couldn't handle this one issue?

Just so it's clear here, I am truly not trying to kill her character or suggest that those working with her question her as a leader, I am just sharing my concerns as if I did not know her and were preparing to serve alongside her; I am sharing my perception based on this incident, for better or for worse. The fact is, she did something that most people I've met wouldn't do; address the creators of internet content that's offensive (not in a joking manner; there is a difference to me) and explain why what they've created is wrong. Often you hear that if you don't like something on the internet to just not visit the site again or to "grow a pair", but that truthfully doesn't address the underlying issues of borderline accepting behaviors online that we wouldn't in real life.

Moving Forward

I don't have the magic answer as to how to address these issues moving forward. It is an issue that everyone from the lowest Private to the highest General needs to be involved with though. In some ways, the military is addressing some of those issues. During my first years in the service, at a point when the War on Terrorism was producing high casualty rates and seeing high deployment rates of Soldiers, it wasn't uncommon to hear of Soldiers being discharged for poor behavior, which was later attributed to PTSD, and having issues with creating a stable post-military life or to hear of Soldiers committing suicide. Transitional services were optional, if present, and PTSD was not a topic most were willing to discuss. Fortunately, today the military's transitional services are much better and more is being done to address the mental and emotional issues that the military service may cause. That is only one piece of the puzzle though.

Undoubtedly, this post will be read by a few folks either with a military background or actively serving today. So I'll ask you, are you a part of the problem or are you helping to be part of the solution? Are you one of those Soldiers whom others have a hard time trusting as a leader, mentor, or peer; or are you someone who has earned the trust and respect of those around you and are helping to create a positive environment?