A story I heard today set my jaw, got my dander up, and got me to thinking what sort of incapable hands, and I am speaking of the enlisted Navy khaki community – have my Brothers and Sisters in the CPO Mess (Retired) left behind? In recent years, story after story of accidents, improper behavior (fraternization) and issues with ships, aircraft and installations continue to be reported. The Navy’s top enlisted Sailor, the MCPON, Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy, resigned due to allegations of improper leadership this year. And I heard today that a Sailor, who happens to be a career top performer and a person who shares my faith (and a member of my congregation), is being allegedly PERSECUTED by the unit CPO Mess for (allegedly) sharing values with another sailor. Honor? Courage? Commitment?
I have to wonder what has happened to the Navy I served for twenty-six years. For as long as people have put to sea, spiritual beliefs have gone to sea with them. For the last two centuries, members of a faith community have been guaranteed the freedom of expression, worship, and other rights, as well as equal protection under the law. I certainly understand that everyone is entitled – and in the military particularly – to believe whatever they want to believe – as long as the mission and the team performance are not negatively affected. A conscientious objector in charge of a weapons system is not expected. A polygamist or adulterer is not expected to respond to policies that define conduct which brings discredit the unit. A person with addiction, particularly to alcohol or prescription drugs, is not the model of reliability in a moment of necessary quick response or judgement.
A search online on the topic of faith and military duty will reveal articles that support that servicemen and women of faith make better and more capable members. And there has been at least one who was convicted at courts martial for refusing to obey orders to remove a display of religious quotes in her workplace. That conviction was based in part on disobedience to a lawful order, and failure to demonstrate that she had taken all the proper steps via the chain of command to remedy her particular issues.
In the case of the Sailor I heard about today, I know that conduct was not the issue. Disobedience and disrespect of a shipmate was not the issue. If good people of faith, technically capable and ethically sound, are forced out of serving in uniform, then the nation as a whole suffers. I do not expect all members of the military to share my Christian faith, nor even to have a belief in a supernatural Deity. But I have known men and women in positions of responsibility whose conduct and attitude demeaned their peers and subordinates. Some of those subordinates chose to leave the service at the end of their contracts.
Honor. Courage. Commitment. Leadership in the armed forces of the United States is a privilege. And respecting the spiritual beliefs of capable, ethical, and valuable members of the team is but one trait that an exceptional member of the Chief Petty Officer Mess can impart.