Posts Tagged ‘court martial’

Recently I wrote a few articles about how reforms to how the military would prosecute sexual assault would likely not make any difference, and how the military abuses the non-judicial punishment system, especially on young enlisted servicemembers, while not doing much to hold members of higher ranks accountable. Those are great articles and you should go back and read them, as this article is going to build off of that information.

My email was inundated recently with articles about Air Force General William Cooley, who was recently found guilty of sexual assault abusive sexual contact (editor note: he was found not guilty of sexual assault, which is the Article 120 reference in the linked article. My apologies for that mistake, and thank you to the commenter that caught it!). This is a big deal because its the first time in the entire history of the Air Force that a general (someone that is wearing a stars on their shoulders and was specifically approved for promotion by Congress) was taken to court martial and found guilty. Now, this isn’t the first time a general was punished. That normally happens under the radar through administrative means, and can happen even as the person is retiring.

As an intelligent reader of this blog, you might ask yourself “How did the Air Force make it 75 years without taking a single general to court martial? Are they just that good at picking people?” When you consider the size of the Air Force and the large number of generals that have served over its 75 year history, and if you know anything about statistics, you realize that this is nonsense. People committ crimes. It happens. You can’t judge an organization by the fact a member committed a crime.

You CAN judge that organization by how it responds to the crimes, and in the case of the military services, that judgement should be pretty harsh. General Cooley was given a fine of $10,910 a month for five months (total of $54,550) and a reprimand. Now, $54K is a lot of money for little people. But at the low end, a major general makes $191K a year in just base pay, so you can be excused for thinking he got off pretty easy.

Normally, sexual assault and other sexual crimes carries jail time and having to register as a sex offender, which General Cooley apparently won’t have to do. Is this a double standard? The easiest way to confirm is look at the results of other court martials of lower ranking people. Scanning the Air Force’s trial results show an awful lot of jail time for Article 120 (sexual assault) convictions as well as abusive sexual contact.

Probably more infuriating for the average airman is that Air Force leadership told everyone that sexual assault and other sexual crimes would not be tolerated and would be punished, despite the fact that sexual crimes in general are notoriously hard to prosecute due to lack of evidence. Inevitably this attitude lead to more than a few innocent people getting NJP, which doesn’t give members a fair trial, and seems to disproportionately affect young enlisted members, and particularly minority members. But when the Air Force has the chance to prosecute a senior member and show it can hold its own accountable…it doesn’t. A fair jury finds General Cooley guilty, and yet the judge goes soft on him.

By the way, not the first time the Air Force hasn’t punished one of its own.

To which I have to ask, why? Why denigrate yourself this way? How can you sleep at night knowing that you botched the chance to prove you really do care about your core values and the service members that serve your organization? The Army lost a lot of credibility in how it handled the Jeffrey Sinclair case. This directly mirrors it, and somehow the Air Force learned nothing from it.

I can’t imagine how this makes parents of kids wanting to join the military feel. The fact that General Cooley did something criminal says nothing about the Air Force, but the fact that he faces no jail time says volumes about the Air Force. It’s just one more reason the military is losing credibility and will have a long road to win it back.

This post represents the views of the author and not those of the Department of Defense, Department of the Navy, or any other government agency. Those agencies would have you believe everything is great and that nothing is wrong with the current way things work. If you liked this article, drop a donation in DaTipJar, share this story and consider purchasing one of the author’s books on Amazon.

I won’t say catastrophically wrong, but wrong nonetheless. In case you forgot, I predicted Scheller’s court martial would get drawn into obscurity by his defense counsel, who would want some time to pass before anyone passed judgement on Scheller. Any good defense lawyer is going to want distance between alleged crimes and judgement so that emotions can die down and, hopefully, cooler heads prevail. I also figured after getting a light sentence of some kind, which would not include jail time, Scheller would be allowed to retire.

Besides the light sentence part, I was wrong. Lt. Col. Scheller plead guilty to all six charges against him. The judge punished him with a sentence of one month forfeiture of $5,000 and a reprimand. His next stop is a Board of Inquiry, which will likely recommend dismissal from service.

Now, this doesn’t mean he loses all benefits. The Veteran’s Affairs will still assess if he can get disability pay, which could be in the thousands per month depending on his level of disability. Given that he fought in Afghanistan, and the Marine Corps has pounded his body over the past 17 years, he’s almost assured to get some disability pay.

At first I was in disbelief that things went completely different from my prediction. I took some time to read his court martial statement, which made things much more clear. Lt. Col. Scheller couldn’t NOT plead guilty. If he had fought the charges, it would have made him look like a crazy person who suddenly realizes he made a mistake and is trying to quickly sweep it under the rug. Scheller isn’t crazy. He might be depressed, but its understandable, given that both his wife and the Marine Corps are abandoning him. But he’s not crazy. It becomes very apparent near the end of his statement:

…Going forward, I am still demanding accountability from my senior General officers.  Since this endeavor began, not a single General officer has accepted accountability.  Not a single General officer has contacted me directly in any forum to deescalate the situation.  Since this endeavor began, I have acknowledged that I should be held accountable for my actions.  I am standing here today pleading guilty.  This is me accepting accountability.  But it deeply pains me that my senior leaders are incapable of being as courageous.  

Without accountability from our senior leaders, the system cannot evolve, and the military will ultimately keep repeating the same mistakes in the future.  It doesn’t matter if a SSgt squad leader is highly efficient in distributed operations if the General officers have relegated themselves to ‘yes sir’ responses.  We need senior leaders who possess the morale courage to push back when something doesn’t make sense. 

– Lt. Col. Scheller

If Lt. Col. Scheller wanted to cast light on the problem, he certainly did so. But where does it go from here? Tackling the military industrial behemoth is a daunting task. Even Mad-dog Mattis, who finally won the war in Iraq, still struggled to make the Department of Defense refocus and change. The revolving door for senior officers still exists, not dissimilar from the revolving door for politicians and lobbyists. Also, given Lt. Col. Scheller’s negative response to help from Donald Trump, I’m not sure where he’s going to start to affect the change he wants to make.

I will say this: this episode is only going to make the 2024 personnel cliff even worse for the military. In less than a month the military threw everything at Scheller over social media posts. Every military member is taking notice. Any that agreed with him will be quietly quitting, and the slow drip of lost manpower is going to accumulate into a river.

This post represents the views of the author and not those of the Department of Defense, Department of the Navy, or any other government agency. If you liked what you read, why not buy my book on Amazon and help me out!