Battleland

Military Misbehavin’

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Army photo / Sgt. Amanda Hils

Army Brigadier General Jeff Sinclair, then the deputy commanding general of support for the 82nd Airborne Division, speaking with Afghan reporters last year.

The Army charged a general who has served five combat tours with a lengthy roster of sexual-assault and other charges last week. Why do such high-flying senior officers sometimes crash and burn like this?

Brigadier General Jeffrey Sinclair remains innocent until proven guilty on charges including forcible sodomy, wrongful sexual conduct, inappropriate relationships and a trifecta of trouble involving misuse of a government credit card and possessing booze and porn while deployed (“It sounds like he pissed somebody off,” a retired Army colonel notes of the long list of alleged crimes, for which he faces court martial).

But interviews with more than a dozen military officers, both retired and active duty, offer insights into such cases.

“They’re GI Joes of the generals,” says one retired Army general. “They’ve got this whole combat persona that they project and use, and the Army is not set up to look past that. They can get away with a lot.”

(MORE: Sexual Assault: The Danger of Isolation)

The consensus is that lower-ranking troops – think drill sergeants at the Army’s Aberdeen Proving Grounds or trainers at the Air Force’s Lackland Air Force Base – live in an insular world where their word is command. Many such non-commissioned officers stay in such assignments for years, while their superiors regularly cycle in and out, eager to punch their ticket and move on.

In that kind of a situation, officers often aren’t really in command. Co-ed training can lead to problems, and the wrong assortment of NCOs can become a predatory pack. The circle-the-wagon mentality shared by those on the inside can make such rings tough to crack.

It’s different, military officers speaking privately say, as you move up the ranks. First of all, such misbehavior becomes increasingly risky the higher in rank the officer – there is more to be lost. Scrutiny becomes greater with each promotion. Finally, senior officers believe there are two kinds of officers: those who would never commit such acts, and those – who for whatever reason – will, and do. Some are simply gob-smacked by such charges against a senior officer. “I cannot figure out how this sort of thing happens,” one retired four-star general says flatly.

Others think they know. “Some of these guys have psychopathic traits – they can be exploitive and manipulative,” another retired general says. So how do they get promoted? “Because he knows what his bosses want and need – it’s not like psychopaths are not in a number of very senior posts, including politicians and presidents.”

The Pentagon has been cracking down on sexual assault in the ranks for decades. “Any sexual assault has no place in the military,” Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said in an interview with NBC Thursday. “I have men and women in the military who put their lives on the line…to protect this country,” he said. “Surely we owe it to them to be able to protect them.”

(MORE: Is Sexual Violence Endemic to the U.S. Military?)

The next day, 20 men and women filed a lawsuit against Panetta and other top Pentagon officials, claiming they were raped or assaulted while serving in the U.S. military, and suffered retaliation when they reported the incidents.

The military, of course, is supposed to be a paragon of virtue. Its soldiers are more physically fit than the average American, so perhaps its only natural to assume they’re more morally fit as well. But those on the inside doubt that’s true.

Sexual violence, military officers say, is a bright shining line that an officer crosses at his own risk. “It’s clear that as a general if you cross a certain line you’re going to get a bad spank if you’re caught,” the second retired general says. “It’s all about knowing what the line is, and what is acceptable and what’s not.”

Consensual sex – even when it’s adultery – is more widely tolerated. “If you keep it quiet,” a retired colonel says, “it tends to be ignored.”

A retired general concurs. “There is a club mentality in the Army,” he says. “Sexual misconduct in some units is condoned – like special forces – all of that stuff is condoned and understood. But the rules change when you become a general and all of a sudden you’re under a microscope.”

“It’s not so much `different spanks for different ranks,'” says the retired colonel. “It’s not that consistent. It depends on who your commander is, and your relationship with him.” That, of course, drives some officers crazy. There are senior officers who seemed to be protected by even more senior officers.

The military deals with sexual assaults and other such crimes the way many troops deal with post-traumatic stress disorder – by denying its existence until it explodes, some officers say.

(MORE: General Misconduct)

“It’s all part of the military mentality – it’s all about how you appear,” says a former Army general. “From the time you come in, your uniform has got to be crisp and clean, and you’ve got to stand up straight and salute. But what’s underneath it doesn’t get as much attention.”

It’s fitting that the military has long had trouble with sexual issues; as Woody Allen might say, sex and death are flip sides of the same coin. Death is the ultimate in war, and sex is all about power, either exerted or shared.

“This is a testosterone-based institution,” the retired general says. “There’s a lot of overlap.” The key challenge for a military force is to channel the testosterone needed to prevail in combat, but not to let it fuel sexual abuse.

The Navy has been looking at the so-called “Bathsheba syndrome” as part of its recurring problems with commanding officers who end up getting fired. It involves the Biblical tale of King David, who sent one of his soldiers to certain death so the king could have his wife, Bathsheba.

A 2010 Navy IG report examining the ouster of 80 commanders for misconduct – half involving sex-related charges – concluded the Bathsheba syndrome played a role. “COs either did not possess the insight into their motives and weaknesses to prevent them from knowingly engaging in unacceptable behavior or they felt that they had the power to conceal their misdeeds,” the IG concluded.

(MORE: Sexual Assault and the Military: Old Remedies Don’t Work)

“The lesson in the Bathsheba syndrome is that everyone is susceptible to the temptations that come with power and control,” wrote Mike Lambert, a retired Navy captain who runs the I Like the Cut of His Jib naval blog. “It is not just the unprincipled that take advantage of being on top…It is also critical for leaders to remember that privilege and status were given to do the job and not as a reward.”

Generals acknowledge the problem. “It’s not uncommon for powerful, successful individuals to succumb to the syndrome, and start to feel that they are beyond reproach,” one says. “Their abuse continues to mount.”

“I’ve only got 13,700 females out of 200,000 total [Marines],” General James Amos, the Marine commandant, said last month. “But I’ve looked every single male Marine in the eye that I could…and I said, `You need to understand that my females are just as important to me as my males are.’ And I think they believe me.” But, Amos added, “this is not going to be won this year; not going to be won next year.”

Air Force General Mark Welsh, now the service’s chief of staff, detailed just how much anti-sexual harassment training his forces undergo at his confirmation hearing in July. “We’ve institutionalized training at every level from accession training for officer enlisted to commander training at the wing commander level in the Air Force. We do annual refresher training,” he said. “We have completed bystander intervention training for the entire uniformed Air Force over the last six months or so.” Such training bothers most troops who would never sexually assault anyone. They find it a waste of time because too often it doesn’t seem to reach the miscreants who commit such acts, they say.

16 comments
bebo
bebo

Put off voter ID until after election.  That sounds real logical.  If driving, don't forget to throw your Driver's License out the car window.

Mike Thompson
Mike Thompson

Unfortunately, I served under this man.  He is the type that will step on anyone around him to get where he needs to go.  His leadership is flawed and his arrogance overtook what little common sense he possessed.  This story is flawed as BG Sinclair had served previously with the 82nd ABN DIV Commander (MG Huggins) when he was the 3rd BDE CDR.  COL Johnson also served in that same unit and was just discharged for adultry, misuse of a Gov travel card and other charges. http://www.stripes.com/news/fo... 

Hmmm, two senior leaders busted that served with the 3rd BDE, 82nd ABN DIV under the same commander.  coincidence????????????

bojimbo26
bojimbo26

A cancer that is not contained .

Keith Ponder
Keith Ponder

Sexual assaults charges are all against women.

bebo
bebo

Sexual assault.  Is this between two men?  You carefully dance around that. Does this relate to gays in the military?

Keith Ponder
Keith Ponder

 Sexual assaults charges are all against women.

bebo
bebo

Better tell Obama.  Soon they will throwing rice at two men, or two women.  The rest of us will be throwing up.

Rumionemore
Rumionemore

It's like failure to deal with anything else that diminishes a human being, whether rape, poverty or illiteracy. It's a problem perceived as too large to resolve. None of these issues will  be taken seriously until more women are elected to national offices and either lead major companies or sit on their boards. In the past decade of the two U.S.-sponsored wars, presidents, four-star commanding generals and secretaries of defense, to name a few, found it easier to simply turn their heads. Our heroes.

mike921
mike921

Don't want to blame the (female) victims here, but the bottom line is, we don't NEED women in the military - this has all been an EXTREMELY expensive social experiment which we do_not_need.   When there aren't enough men to fill the ranks, THEN we should look at women's participation.

James Smith
James Smith

Why don't we need women in the military?

We don't need more grunts; we need leaders -- educated, motivated, and dynamic. Guess which gender performs better nearly across the board? Hint: it's not men.

If anything, we should encourage more women to join the military while holding all members to a higher standard of behavior. In many Asian countries, for example, one soldier does one reprehensible thing and it horribly damages America's standing there. I work in South Korea and never once have I heard of a female soldier impugning the image of the USA.

Beyond that, merely as a tactical concept -- think of the psychological damage that could be wrought upon the Taliban and like minded misogynists by more female soldiers kicking in their doors; think of how it could inspire the women in those oppressed areas of the world to stand up on their own and fight.

I imagine these words are lost on you; but I want to be very clear on one thing -- there are people of all ages, of all genders, of all social statuses and walks of life who no longer will tolerate gross ignorance such as yours with a quiet smile, as though we see a hidden truth you are too foolish or too childish to understand. No, no more acceptance, no more tolerance -- we will shout you down, dissect your arguments, and leave you as an example for the next fool to open his mouth and paint a masterpiece of ignorance.

Women have rights. Deal with it or we'll find ways to take yours away.

Rumionemore
Rumionemore

Did you love 1957 much, Mike? So sorry you can't go back.

bebo
bebo

When people refer to past eras it's so ridiculous.  One day 2012 will be 1957. We're not as "advanced" as we'd like to think.  We imagined we would be living like "The Jetsons" today, but we got "Texting" instead.

Rumionemore
Rumionemore

Good point - everything is relative. But I was using humor to give some perspective to this gentleman. Everyone has a right to his/her ways of looking at things. His remark just warranted a little nudge. He put himself out there, so apparently he can't take what he receives.

Liz Winsor
Liz Winsor

Right. So if it weren't for the damn broads, the good soldiers would not be forced to rape them.

As long as our heroes stick to raping enemy women and children that's all good with you, Mike? 

Hate to say this, but it's apologist bigots like you who deserve to be the victim of the rapists you excuse.

Rumionemore
Rumionemore

I used to look forward to the day when we would have fewer ignorant people in this country, but attitudes such as Mike's reflect our overall societal situation. Poverty, 40% of children born out of wedlock (usually meaning poverty), failing institutions, including education and the military, and a government that promises to make things better for people. But knows it can't and never will.

anonguest7619
anonguest7619

Mark-your statement that: "The military deals with sexual assaults and other such crimes the way many troops deal with post-traumatic stress disorder – by denying its existence until it explodes, some officers say."

Is inartfully stated. See, what most people are unaware of is that rape can *cause* post traumatic stress disorder. The fundamental unfairness of it all is that even though I have PTSD just like my male colleagues I have to report it on my security clearance though they don't. Same diagnosis, different sources, different treatment. Possibly due to the fact that the #1 cause of PTSD in men is combat, whereas the #1 cause of PTSD in women is rape.

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