Copyright 2011 John T. Reed
A reader gave me a link to this Army Times aricle about an Army Captain who was in a firefight in Afghanistan. Air Force Times also did an article aout it. A Marine named Meyer won the Medal of Honor in than same firefight. It appears that Captain William Swenson was doing about the same thing as Meyer. But so far, Swenson has not even gotten a gold star on his report card let alone a medal.
Why? It appears he complained about higher headquarters refusing to give him fire support during the battle.
I have seen and complained about lot of incompetence, dishonesty, and deliberate misbehavior in the military, but I never heard of this particular form of misbehavior. (The failures to resupply and medevac wounded or sick in the novel Matterhorn were comparable and probably based on fact, but the author, Karl Marlantes, claims the book is fictional, so Swenson’s complaints are the first I’ve heard that are purported to be factual.)
According to the Army Times story, higher refused fire support because they were afraid of hitting civilians or Americans.
Uh, perhaps the captain on the scene is in a better position to make that call than some lard-ass brass seven or whatever miles to the rear and uninvolved in taking any fire.
There is further evidence of Swenson’s intelligence. He got out of the Army in February. Better late than never. He is lucky he is still alive after have done an extremely stupid thing: Trusting his life and those of his men to the brass in
Task Force Chosin, 1st Battalion, 32nd Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division.
As always I am happy to give such scum “credit” for their actions or inactions. I wish I had the sons of bitches’ names.
The officers in charge of that task force were cited in a military investigation for “negligent” leadership leading “directly to loss of life” on the battlefield.
Let me translate that into plain English. The brass in that task force deliberately did not do their jobs, apparently treating political correctness, and its benefits for their careers, as more important than accomplishing the mission or the lives of their subordinates.
I especially want to translate the phrase “negligent leadership” into plain English. It means negligence in the simpler, non-bureaucratic real world where people say what they mean and where leadership is a word only used to describe those who know the way showing others the way and motivating those others to follow them down it.
The Army Times article did not say what punishment the Chosin Task Force brass got for this.
What should they have gotten? They should have been relieved, court martialed, incarcerated for a long time, and dishonorably discharged.
What did they get? Apparently nothing but the being “cited.”
I was thrown out of the Army in 1972. It was an honorable discharge. I got severance pay which they do not give you if you are fired for doing something bad. I had made it crystal clear starting in 1966 that I was getting out of the Army as soon as I was allowed. I graduated from West Point in 1968 and was required to stay in the Army for five years afterward. They discharged me a little less than a year before the date I would have resigned. In other words, they said “You can’t quit, you’re fired.” I was an airborne ranger who volunteered for the 82nd Airborne, Vietnam, and the LRRPs and Green Berets in Vietnam. I got assigned to the 82nd and Vietnam, but not the LRRPs and Green Berets. Many of my West Point classmates did none of those things. A minority of my classmates did all of them. During the Vietnam war, we also had maybe 100,000 officers, from ROTC and OCS, who did none of those things either, and did not go to West Point. Hardly any of them were thrown out of the Army for any reason.
What was the reason for my getting discharged? As far as I can tell, it was mainly two things that happened when I was an AIT (Advanced Individual Training—my men were almost all going to communications schools there) company commander at Fort Monmouth, NJ.
1. I refused to attend so-called “command-performance” parties hosted by my battalion or brigade commanders. I told them the phrase “mandatory party” is a contradiction in terms and said I might attend, depending on what else I could be doing that weekend night, if the party were truly optional, but no way would I attend if it were mandatory. They responded by explicitly issuing an order to all officers in the battalion to attend the party. I did not attend.
2. I refused to send Unit Fund money to the battalion and brigade commanders so they could buy a savings bond for the winner of their Soldier of the Month competition. The regulation on Unit Fund expenditures said I as company commander was supposed to ask my troops what they wanted to spend the money on. I did. They wanted to end all the stupid magazine subscriptions, savings ond contributions, and repair the foosball machine. So that’s what I did. The brass told me my troops would not be eligible for the Soldier of the Month Awards if we did not give them money for the saving bond. I told my troops that and they said, “Fine, we have little chance of winning it anyway.” Why? Because those were 400-man AIT companies so a battalion was about 1,600 men and a brigade was about 5,000 and there is only one soldier of the month at each level.
Also, with me as their company commander, they figured they had no chance at all. We won second best mess hall my first month in command. I surmise the guy who awarded me that got his ass chewed. The post newspaper photo of me receiving it was cropped to hide the identity of the guy handing it to me—the base commander. Normally, cutting the base commander out of a post newspaper photo would get the cropper transferred to Greenland. In subsequent months, we had by far the highest head count of any mess hall at Fort Monmouth. That meant it was the most popular place to eat on the base. Soldiers could eat in any mess hall. They did not have to eat in their own. But we got no more awards for having a good mess hall. The base mess officer captain inspector who came every month was very sheepish about it and emphasized to us privately that our head count was a real tribute to our mess hall.
I call these sorts of games in the U.S. military O.V.U.M. (activities that are Officially Voluntary but Unofficially Mandatory) I wrote an article about that.
I also got in trouble for not going along with what I call OPUM—things that are Officially Prohibited but Unofficially Mandatory, most notably refusing to sign false official documents. The article I wrote about that is here.
Anyway, the experience of me, Captian Swenson, and the brass at Task Force Chosin, not to mention Pat Tillman and the cover-up of his friendly-fire death, (use the johntreed.com search box at the top of this web page to search for the word “Tillman” to see my many articles on that incident) tells you what the U.S. Army officer corps is really about:
Sucking up, playing the game, and protecting fellow officers as long as they do those two things, and retaliating against and punishing those who dare not suck up or play the game.
Are there good officers and enlisted men in the U.S. military? Sure—in the ranks of company-grade officers (lieutenant and captain) and E-1 (private) to about E-5 (buck or lowest sergeant). How can you tell which they are?
One strong clue is they get out of the military as soon as they can.
And what am I saying about those who stay? They have chosen to suck up and play the game. There is no third way of staying in while refusing to suck up or play the game. Believe me, I tried—although I was only trying to stay in five years, not twenty or more. Please see my article titled “The 30-year, single-elimination, marathon, suck-up tournament” or “How America selects its generals.”
P.S. Later the same day after I posted this, the head general in Afghanistan, John Allen, said he had belatedly recommended Swenson for a Medal of Honor. The incident in question happened two years ago. Meyer actually received his Medal of Honor today (9/15/11) at the White House. Two other guys who were involved in the action had also already received the Navy Cross, the second highest medal for valor after the Medal of Honor. The article about Allen’s belated recommendation has more detais of Swenson’s complaints about his superiors. Five men died in the battle.
Here is a little dialog between me and an imaginary reader about the delay in recommending Swenson for a Medal of Honor.
Reader: Is it normal for the Navy to award a Medal of Honor and two Navy Crosses for an action while the Army takes two years to even start the process of getting a medal for one of their guys in the same action?
Me: Don’t know about that. It is normal for the military to finally start to do the right thing when the media heat is turned up on them. I can think of another delay in awarding a deserved medal.
Reader: Who was that?
Me: Warrant Officer Hugh Thompson, jr..
Reader: What’d he do?
Me: Stopped the My Lai Massacre.
Reader: What exactly was that?
Me: A U.S.Army infantry platoon commanded by 1st Lt. William Calley murdered at least 347 women, children, and elderly Vietnamese in the village of My Lai on March 16, 1968.
Reader: What was Thompson’s role?
Me: He was flying a chopper in the area and saw what was going on. He landed and ordered Calley and his men to stop, directing one of his door gunners to aim their M-60 machine gun at Calley and his men. After a staredown, Calley and his men stopped the killing. Calley outranked Thompson and outgunned him. Everone in Calley’s 30- to 40-man platoon had an automatic weapon (M-16) or their own M-60 machine guns (probably about six to eight in a platoon).
Reader: Did Thompson get the Medal of Honor?
Me: Ha! He got the Soldier’s Medal.
Reader: What’s that one for?
Me: “Distinguishing oneself by heroism not involving actual conflict with an enemy.”
Reader: You said there was a delay. How long?
Me: Would you believe 30 years?
Reader: 30 years!? Why?
Me: The Army does not like whistleblowers.
Reader: What did they do to Calley?
Me: He was the only one prosecuted. He was senteneced to life in prison at Leavenworth, but instead got three and a half years of house arrest in the bachelor officers quarters at Fort Benning because of various appeals and pardon and commutation by President Nixon.
Reader: Did Thompson get any other recognition?
Me: My alma mater West Point invited him to speak to cadets about military ethics.
Reader: Was that delayed?
Me: 37 years.
Reader: Seriously? What was the occasion?
Me: Apparently West Point got shamed into inviting Thompson to speak by Annapolis doing it two years before. West Point and Annapolis are the Army and Navy of Army-Navy Game fame—archrivals. I wrote extensively about Thompson in my web article “The U.S. military gives no medals for moral courage.” I also once talked a high school kid out of going to West Point. That was mainly because of my web article “Should you go to, or stay at, West Point?” But that young man seemed even more disgusted with my web article about military medals. I will be adding this article about Swenson to the tail end of my military medals article.
Reader: Has Thompson commented on Swenson?
Me: No. And he won’t be. He died a couple of months after he spoke at West Point.
Reader: Do you know Swenson?
Me: Nope. But I know some other army Swenson’s. It would be amusing to me if they were related.
Me: My battalion commander when I was a plebe at West Point (good guy—I ran into him last year) and the general who presided over the hearing where they decided to discharge me early from the Army (non-West Point guy—one of my clasmates who sereved with me in Vietnam and tesetified for me at my Army hearing ran into him subsequent to the hearing. General Swenson told him the hearing and its result were “unfortunate” or “difficult” or something along those lines. “Predictable” is the word I used at the time.
Reader: Will Swenson now get the Medal of Honor in the Rose Garden from Obama like Meyer?
Me: Maybe—if the media keeps the heat up. If not, he may get nothing. Or he may get a lesser medal from a lesser officer in a lesser setting. Swenson complained bitterly about the chain of command. Obama was at the top of that chain of command. Also, Congress, which has to approve the medal, was remiss in their oversight of the military by implication of Swenson’s complaints. Finally, Swenson has refused to talk to the media. I did the same at Fort Monmouth (The Asbury Park Press, the local daily paper, contacted me through my Army JAG atorney). All of this sort of stuff scares the tight asses in the White House, Petnagon, and Congress. They fear Swenson may rip his Medal of Honor off and throw it in Barack’s face then denounce the chain of command and the U.S. military on international TV. If Swenson gets a medal, I expect it will be like my medal “ceremony” in Vietnam or like Bart Simpson’s free birthday ice cream at Baskin-Robbins. On my first day in Vietnam, a low-level enlisted man was passing papers for me to sign across a table and handing me jungle boots and such. Suddenly, he flipped a little cardboard jewelry type box at me. IT slid across the table as if he was ealin me a card.
Me: What’s this?
Enlisted man: Your medal, sir.
Me: Medal!? For what I just got here.
Enlisted man: That’s what it’s for, sir. Just getting here.
It was my Vietnam Service medal and ribbon.
In the Simpson’s episode, Bart got a post card from Baskin-Robbins wishing him a happy burthday and inviting him to come in for a free ice cream. He arrived—without his family—and the clerk threw a thimble of ice cream at him saying, “Here. Eat it and get out.”
I expect Swenson’s medal ceremony, if any, will go more like mine or Bart’s than Meyers’.
They never promiesd him a Rose Garden.
The Swenson saga, and the totality of Army personnel practices on your military pages remind me of something I was told years ago.
A retired Army Lt. Col. (chopper pilot, shot down twice in Vietnam, 20-and-out) who I worked with briefly at Visa was sitting with a few of us never-served types at lunch. He was asked about the difference between a career in the Army vs. a civilian career.
The good Colonel said everything a civilian would ever want to know about the U.S. Army can be summed in one brief, good-for-all-time-and-every-situation guiding principle of the U.S. Army Officer Corps:
"THAT WHICH STICKS OUT, WE CUT OFF".
I did not understand what he meant at the time, but after reading your military articles, I believe I do.
Question: Have you heard this phrase before? Is it one of those inside-joke, gallows-humour phrases commonly used within the Army?
San Mateo, CA
Reed response: Never heard it before, but it sounds the same as the Japanese saying, "The nail that sticks up gets pounded down” which is more the way the Army operates than cut it off. See the standard “counseling session’ in my militaryhonor.html article. If you fail to “play the game”, they initially assume you do not know the rules. Thereafter, you get good-cop-bad-cop prisoner interrogation techniques. I generally felt more like a prisoner of war than a “warrior” starting with when I got to Vietnam.
I think a simpler summary is "Go along to get along."
If you know what they mean, my acronyms OPUM and OVUM cover a lot.
To try to cover the gamut I would say the U.S. military officer corps operates on the following principles:
• Cover up.
• Suck up.
• Look the part.
• Talk a good game.
• Argue that good intentions and occasional progress (but not overall net progress) are 100% substitutes for results.
• Risk your life and those of your men, but never risk your career.
• Form is everything; substance, nothing. (The military is a 24/7 Potemkin Village.)
• The taxpayers are a bottomless pit so money is no object when it comes to defense.
• Hang on until 20 years to get your pension and health bennies.
I appreciate informed, well-thought-out constructive criticism and suggestions.
John T. Reed
Link to information about John T. Reed’s Succeeding book which, in part, relates lessons learned about succeeding in life from being in the military