When the bosses screw up, somebody has to be hung out to dry. There is always a scapegoat. This time there are two. Two officers whose careers will be ruined and an entire division which will get a black eye. All because the bosses screwed up with an insane peacekeeping philosophy and because the nation's political leadership is incapable of comprehending what an army is for.
Here's what I'm talking about.
On Monday the chief of staff of the Army released a report which talked about supposed "excesses" committed by American peacekeepers in Kosovo. The Secretary of Defense, William Cohen, immediately endorsed the report and called for more training or some such nonsense.
It seems that members of the 82nd Airborne Division, deployed in Kosovo, acted like soldiers, and that has scandalized the Secretary of Defense and every flag officer who feels obligated to kiss his fanny. Specifically, the problem was the 3rd Battalion of the 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment of the 82nd Airborne. It is a unit commanded in Kosovo by a lieutenant colonel named Michael Ellerbe.
Colonel Ellerbe and his troopers were sent in to keep the Albanians from killing the Serbs. His orders were to "identify and neutralize" the bad guys. Now, in the language of Washington, "identify and neutralize" apparently means to find the killers and, while displaying cultural and political sensitivity, offer them a fruit basket and a pamphlet.
But Ellerbe doesn't live in Washington. He lives in Fort Bragg, where "identify and neutralize" involves blowing things up and sending various bad guys to meet Jesus.
Fortunately for the Albanians, Ellerbe's battalion seems to have accomplished most of its neutralizing via a stern talking to. Which is where John Serafini comes in.
He was a lieutenant with Alpha Company of the 3rd Battalion. That means he's a young fire eater just a couple of years out of college and in command of a platoon of paratroopers in a combat zone.
The Secretary of Defense wants him court-martialed. His offense?
Well, brace yourself. He, an infantry officer, allegedly "communicated a threat." Which, if you think about it, seems almost natural for a guy packing an M16. Some people think the entire purpose of an army is to "communicate a threat." Something along the lines of: Don't screw with me or you're going to have a very bad day.
Anyway, Lieutenant Serafini and his men had caught a bad guy and they were interrogating him. That's what soldiers do. And it seems that this Albanian guy didn't know that his role in this little drama was to say, "Yes, sir" over and over again.
Apparently GI Joe was asking this ragamuffin where his killer pals were and no answers were forthcoming. So Serafini remembers the stuff he learned about psychological warfare and decides to try some of it. So he raises an unloaded gun to the head of Mr. Tightlip the Albanian and says something to the effect that now would be a really good time to start talking.
And, whoda thunk it, the guy starts blabbing. And the mission got accomplished. Score that a win.
Unless you're some pansy at the Pentagon intent on castrating Uncle Sam's Army. If that's you, you see this as "excessive" and "conduct unbecoming an officer." Which is really screwed, because such a culture of military weakness would have rejected virtually every successful combat leader this nation has ever had. Sadly, such a culture of military weakness is assuring that America's future combat leaders will be spineless sycophants incapable of doing anything but covering their backsides.
So Lieutenant Serafini and Colonel Ellerbe are left twisting in the wind, hung out to dry, two airborne soldiers * wearing the proudest patch in the Army torpedoed by the brass for doing their jobs like the warriors their country asked them to be.
And there was one other thing that bothered the milquetoasts back at HQ. They made special reference to it in their report and identified it as a sign of what was wrong with the 3rd Battalion and, indeed, all of the 82nd Airborne. It was the motto of Alpha Company: "Shoot 'em in the face." Apparently, that motto-which may date back to D-Day-doesn't fit in today's politically correct Army. The notion of shooting the enemies of America in the face is too gruesome and insensitive for the lip-biter in chief. Which is pretty weird, if you think about it, because, if we can be honest, isn't killing people kind of what we train soldiers to do? I mean, the Army is not a social welfare agency, it's not really just some giant college fund.
It's a unique bunch of people with a very unique job using overwhelming deadly force to assert and protect the interests of the United States of America. These are people who must stand ready day in and day out to administer and face death on the orders of fat, impotent men in Washington, D.C. It takes a certain kind of mindset to do that. And a motto like "Shoot 'em in the face" helps establish and bolster that mindset. Besides, it's not all cheerleading. It's good soldiering. When you're engaging an enemy wearing body armor and a Kevlar helmet, isn't a face shot a tactical necessity?
And shouldn't the chief of staff of the Army know that? And shouldn't America and its civilian leadership realize that being a soldier is a dirty business? Don't the morons in Washington know that soldiers aren't cops? Don't they know that whacking these two officers like this will kill the morale of countless other troopers? Don't they know that in recent years the pride has gone out of the military, stolen from it by spineless bureaucrats and the open contempt of a civilian leadership which actively avoided military service itself?
I'm sorry this happened to Lieutenant Serafini and Colonel Ellerbe, and I hope somehow they can hear these words. Not just from me, but from all of America. And not just to them, but to all of their comrades.
"Well done. We're proud of you, and grateful."
- by Bob Lonsberry 1 2000