This post originally appeared on the USNI Blog here.
It’s no secret that our military is being politicized. In a sense, it always has been, but its certainly more pointed when information is being shared directly into our palms at the speed of our thumbs.
I can tell it’s different today, because I find myself wondering if I’ll be in violation of the UCMJ if I publicly support a decision by our senior military leaders. Am I conducting political activity in uniform if I say I agree with our CNO, when his decision might go against the President’s intent behind his tweets? Well, I guess there’s about 40 percent of you who will say yes.
But I’ve never been one to hold my tongue on matters of right and wrong. So, if applauding Admiral Michael Gilday for upholding the decision to reduce Chief Eddie Gallagher to E-6 is wrong, well, that’s a chance I’m willing to take.
I commend Admiral Gilday for a few reasons. First, his decision really has nothing to do with the President, no matter how much the President has publicly intervened in Gallagher’s case and voiced his support. Of course, the media will try to spin it this way, but the decision is really an affirmation of our process of naval justice and accountability. The CNO recognized the legitimacy of the court-martial’s decision based on the rules we have in the military, and upheld the decision. Granted, the case against Gallagher largely fell apart in no small part because of a variety of fumbles by the personnel involved. Still, the charge of posing for a picture with a dead body stuck. We have rules against that kind of behavior for a reason (think: what impact does the message that picture sends have on our strategic goals? Is there a benefit to the mission from that picture, other than personal pride?), and we should abide by them. If we don’t like the rules, we should advocate for change, but we should not complain because we don’t like the way the rules are applied to our behavior. And, of course, people will say that the other SEALs in the picture were not held accountable. Anyone who’s played sports knows that sometimes you’re the one that gets called for a penalty, even when ten other players were doing the same thing. It doesn’t make what you did right.
Second, Admiral Gilday stood with the many men and women who did their job and held Chief Gallagher accountable for the violation of which he was accused. Although it may amount to a mere technicality, his decision will reverberate throughout the force with a message of “Not only do I support our standard of conduct, but I support all of you who are working to uphold that standard.” Let’s not forget the words of former Secretary of Defense James Mattis in his 2018 “Discipline and Lethality” memo:
The military justice system is a powerful tool that preserves good order and discipline while protecting the civil rights of Service members. It is a commander’s duty to use it. Military leaders must not interfere with individual cases, but fairness to the accused does not prevent military officers from appropriately condemning and eradicating malignant behavior from our ranks. Leaders must be willing to choose the harder right over the easier wrong. Administrative actions should not be the default method to address illicit conduct simply because it is less burdensome than the military justice system. Leaders cannot be so risk-averse that they lose their focus on forging disciplined troops ready to ferociously and ethically defeat our enemies on the battlefield.
Maybe most important, Admiral Gilday gave a vote of confidence for our core values of honor, courage, and commitment. I do not know Eddie Gallagher, but I do know his actions don’t reflect the unwavering standard of our core values—not just the picture, but the gloating and indignation following the court-martial. CNO’s decision confirms that he does not believe this is OK. He had the honor to do what he believed was right, and the courage to do it regardless of the consequences. Now, let’s see if he has the commitment to stick with his convictions in the face of inevitable political headwinds. Not only did Admiral Gilday stand up for our core values, he stood up for the thousands of men and women who walk the line every day, dedicated to accomplishing the mission ethically and legally. With the character of our military, both as service members and as an institution, under attack from the left and right, Admiral Gilday’s character shone brightly.
Bravo Zulu, CNO.