Who Do I Hold Responsible? 

7/17/2013 12:00 AM 


After many years of holding our commanding officers responsible for the training, performance, and behavior of their troops, we seem to be about to drift into a military institutional discipline model which strips the commanders of their responsibilities for all which occurs in their unit or organization.  Depriving commanders of their ability to adjudicate nearly two thirds of offenses under the Uniformed Code of Military Justice (UCMJ), as well as stripping their right to convene a general courts-martial, effectively ceases the capability of commanders to shape the culture of their units.  In its place, there will be a transition to a model which, apparently, presumes some designated lawyer will administer punishment regarding sexual misconduct.  As I understand it, this concept of a detached mode of discipline is sweeping Capitol Hill during the 2013 summer season.  Such a system is presumed to be an effective means of doling out punishments and, in turn, the best way to create an appropriate command climate.

I know of nothing in my experience to support such a specious assumption.

The fact other nations do such a thing is interesting dinner party table discussion, but hardly a justifiable reason for the Armed Forces of the United States to change the long standing focus of good order, discipline, and performance being placed squarely on commanders’ shoulders.  I, for one, find it hard to believe that some members of Congress are suggesting it would be acceptable in their eyes for a commander to stand before them and tell them during a hearing, "I don't know, perhaps you might ask the attorney handling this matter."

I think we are about to create a system with more unknowns than knowns based upon  a very speculative concept which will neither solve the problem it is supposed to cure, or create an environment  in which all are treated with dignity and respect.  Hard as I may try to conceive of a system better than the one we have today, I cannot.

Hold our commanders responsible for everything their unit does, or fails to do.  The chief responsibility of a commander is to establish a command climate in which his or her unit can be effective in accomplishing their mission – removing the “definitive commander’s tool to preserve good-order and discipline” threatens the ability of a commander to accomplish his or her mission, nowhere more so than when deployed to a combat zone.

My concern is such that I have reached out to the other former chiefs of staff and, along with GEN Carl Vuono and GEN Dennis Reimer, sent a letter to the chairman and ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee outlining our concerns. You may read the letter here. Briefly, we stated that based on our over 100 years of combined military service, we know that commanders must have the full authority under the UCMJ to back up their leadership skills with swift, fair discipline.  U.S. Army Chief of Staff, General Ray Odierno has said that fighting sexual assault and sexual harassment is now the Army’s primary mission.  Well folks, changing military culture requires empowered commanders.

(For additional insight into the role of the commander in the military justice system, I recommend you read Lindsy Nicole Alleman, Who is in Charge, and Who Should Be? The Disciplinary Role of the Commander in Military Justice Systems, 16 Duke J.C.I.L. 169 (2006), Copyright 2006.)