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December 06, 2004

Good order and discipline.

Two related stories in the papers today. Soldiers suing over the "Stop Loss" policy, and the results of the disciplinary actions against the platoon that refused to conduct the convoy mission. They aren't directly connected, but they they both go to the core of what the services term "Good Order and Discipline" an essential component of unit effectiveness and cohesiveness.

In the first case, 8 soldiers, one by name, the other anonymously, as they fear retribution, are suing the Army over "Stop Loss". Stop loss is authority granted to the Secretary of Defense to order that certain types of soldiers will not be allowed to leave the service upon the expiration of their enlistment contracts. Just what mix of specialties and grades (ranks) are affected are determined by the situation any particular service is facing. I should note that 'stop loss' has been applied in peacetime, as well, not just in wartime, when for whatever reason, a shortage of a critical military specialty looms, and the services need to bridge a gap. It has usually been short.

The war is a different matter. The soldiers in question are suing over the implementation of the policy that if you are in a deploying unit, stop loss applies while that unit is deployed, for all personnel in the unit. The suing soldiers want the Army to honor their contracts and let them leave. The purpose of the stop-loss for deployed units is simple. We don't want to do in Iraq and Afghanistan what we did in Vietnam - where units were deployed but then continually refilled with individual replacements, who were usually not well integrated into the units for some time - which is not good for combat efficiency. Combat units rely on teamwork as their greatest combat multiplier. We did the same thing with leg infantry divisions in WWII. Read any of the memoirs of replacement soldiers in those divisions. We didn't do that with the Airborne and Armored divisions in WWII, mainly because they were used as strike forces, and not to hold ground.

It doesn't bother me (it may well others) that these soldiers (with differing motivations) are suing. Let 'em have their due process on this. The courts have shown deference to military necessity before in issues like this, and I don't expect the suit will prevail. The Services can make a compelling case for the policy. There is plenty of precedent supporting the services, and while it's been a long time since I saw my enlistment contract, it was clear to me that wartime trumped all other clauses, but perhaps the wording has changed. Anyone?

The whole story on that is here, in the New York Times - which opines that:

These soldiers' public objections are only the latest signs of rising tension within the ranks. In October, members of an Army Reserve unit refused a mission, saying it was too dangerous. And in recent months, some members of the Individual Ready Reserve, many of whom say they thought they had finished their military careers, have objected to being called back to war and requested exemptions.

Rising tension, heh. Only people with little to no real knowledge of the services and the history of WWII and Korea, heck, even the Civil War, would put it like that. Anyone remember what Joshua Chamberlain was dealing with just prior to Gettysburg? But that leads us to the next bit, about the famous platoon of the 343rd Quartermaster Company, that refused to conduct their convoy.

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - The U.S. military in Iraq has disciplined 18 soldiers who refused to go out on a transport convoy they thought was too dangerous, but the reservists will not face court-martial, a military spokesman said Monday.

Lieutenant Colonel Steve Boylan said a further five would also face "non-judicial" punishment under Article 15 of the U.S. military justice code, making 23 troops disciplined in this way.

Pretty much went as I thought it would (much, I'm sure, to the disgust of those who were arguing for firing squads at dawn, even if mostly in jest). I thought that it would be shown that there was more to the story than simple refusal to obey orders (based on an assumption of cowardice, or at least, excessive angst). While I don't know the whole story - the unit was apparently very badly led. The Company Commander was relieved over the refusal incident (I've heard it reported that she requested relief - if she had to ask, the battalion commander needs looking at) and it became clear in what little I could glean from my meager sources that the unit was badly run and in marginal shape as a unit. In other words, as it is in almost any case like this - it was a failure of the chain of command. That doesn't relieve the soldiers of their responsibility to obey lawful orders - but the fact that this issue was handled with Article 15 proceedings (and that none of the involved soldiers demanded Courts Martial, as is their right) indicates to me that there was enough blame to spread around that at least some of the soldier's grievances had substance, if their chosen method of dealing with them was ill-advised. I suspect justice was served in this case - others of you may well disagree.

That whole story is here. Anyone want to argue it? Cogently, I mean - not just a 'They shoulda hung the bastards!' kind of way?

Dusty, you got an opinion here? You were a full-Colonel level commander, whattaya you think?