“I Rest Easily Knowing That I Spoke Up”

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Navy photo / MCC Ahron Arendes

Two of the Navy's newest submariners are congratulated in December for qualifying as bubbleheads, the Navy's unofficial, affectionate term for those aboard subs.

Last autumn, I wrote a letter about the troubling ripple effect that “immoral and dissolute” commanding officers have in today’s Navy, based on my personal experience.

The Naval War College Review recently published it, and it has made some minor stomach-turning ripples of its own. Some of the commenters have wondered why I wrote the letter. I believe they are a distraction from the public-policy issue.

It’s not because I feel scorned.

I am relieved I dodged a metaphorical bullet.

It wasn’t about maligning a particular individual.

If his actions were thought to be secret, it may be one of the worst-kept secrets in his warfare community.

The broad picture of events was necessary to demonstrate that my insight on the issue was from hard-won experience. It also begins to demonstrate the depths to which someone will go to protect his lies. The ruthless layering of deceit frightens me, and I think it should give pause to anyone else who places their trust in someone who lies.

I am an adult and I try to take responsibility for my actions.

I got myself to Guam, through a swindle yes, but I got myself back.

This blew up my livelihood and my ability to trust even the closest of my friends and family.

I’m working to get all of that back too.

I didn’t write to ask for sympathy, although I deeply appreciate the kindness and support I have received. I did not cry out for his job to be sacrificed. I did check with the Navy to find out if his actions merited sanction and was told they do not.

The issue of honor can be discussed without my calling for his job. That was, and remains, in the Navy’s hands.

I understand that questions are being asked about my credibility, as they should be whenever any private person steps forward with information about a key member of an institution as august and revered as the U.S. Navy. I am a staid, middle-aged woman who has spent far more time solving equations than I ever have on make-up or chasing boys.

I am comfortable in my own skin, and am comfortable being alone. I am not the one who tried to marry three different individuals within a matter of months. I loved him for the individual I thought he was and not for his profession or rank.

I have been called naive.

I suppose I was.

Most people develop trust in the person they love for years. I was part of the Family Readiness Group, I met his family.

I had:

— A diamond ring (I gave it back).

— A wedding date.

— The plans he made with the officiant and the venue.

— Sessions he set up with a couple’s counselor because I did not want to move.

— And an invitation to his change of command ceremony.

He and some of his men from the command packed up my belongings one weekend while I was away.

I thought it was a kindness. Who would have thought I would need to go undo that because one day he would disappear?

I also got “cold feet.” Rather than use that as an excuse to exit gracefully, he chose to increase the pressure on me to continue our relationship, including sad emails about tears over the thought of me leaving.

I had no way of knowing that while I was wearing his ring, discussing vows, and looking at Guam housing options with him, he invited a stranger to visit him in port and meet members of the command, only days after my own visit. I was as trusting of my sailor as I suppose most people are.

As a scientist, I understand that integrity and honesty matter. I also understand the value of my signature and do not use my name lightly. I use it now because this issue is important. When I was a young woman, I had a choice of mentors. I would have found it difficult to respect someone professionally after they demonstrated poor judgment, lack of  responsibility, and callous disregard for the well-being of others.

In science, every idea is challenged, whether it’s from a member of the National Academy or a graduate student. As an oceanographer, I have spent months at sea. I understand and respect that a captain absolutely cannot be challenged but I always had the choice of whether to go to sea or not.

A member of the military gives up that right of choice. Sailors cannot challenge a superior officer.

They can’t opt out of a deployment. They must trust their superiors and they do so with their lives. The issue of whether their commanding officer is trustworthy is one of the most fundamental issues in the military and therefore matters to every American.

There has been talk of a systemic problem. Skeptics argue that some people get a bye because of their skills. I think the phrase is “different spanks for different ranks.”

I don’t have the data on that. Maybe issues involving civilians get a pass more easily than others; the reported data lean heavily towards misdeeds among members of the military. I understand why “good order and discipline” means these cases must be treated as a priority. But that should not send the signal that civilians – in whose name our military serves, and who they are charged with protecting — should become prey.

To put it simply, I see this as a public-policy issue, and I wanted to shed some light on the topic given what I have experienced.

Others were naive as well. Miscreants rely on the trusting nature of others to operate off the radar.

Superior officers should not have to be concerned with the personal failings of their subordinates. But when those failings are spectacular, and witnessed by other navy personnel, then they should be.

It was also naive for anyone to assume that I and my livelihood could be treated like garbage — and I would silently accept it.

No one should. I am human. I was lied to, bullied in attempts to silence me, and lied about in bizarre, terrible ways.

I haven’t made some dramatic cry for people to come forward. I understand why that would be difficult to do for others, for many reasons.

I rest easily knowing that I spoke up.

Editor’s Note: Original Battleland post here; Navy reaction here.