At its best, the Army takes good care of soldiers.
And at its worst, it abuses them with impunity.
This story broke for many of us this week, but the soldiers affected have been dealing with it for years now. Here’s the short version:
From 2006 to 2008, desperate to keep good soldiers in, the Army offered large bonuses to soldiers in some critical specialties to incentivize them to reenlist. Many soldiers took those bonuses, including some who weren’t eligible. After it learned about its mistake via an audit in 2011, the Army went back to those ineligible soldiers and former soldiers and demanded its money back. So far, it seems mostly National Guard soldiers were affected. So far, most of them seem to be in California.
All reports I have seen indicate it was the Army that screwed up. A few former recruiters have already gone to jail for their part. The vast majority of the soldiers who took these bonuses did so in good faith.
And now the Army is demanding soldiers pay for its mistake.
This is a shining example of poor leadership at every level. Someone discovered the error, and someone decided the right thing to do was to demand the soldiers correct it. And overwhelmed leaders and staffers from the pentagon down swore, put their heads on their desks, then sat up and complied with their lawful orders. Because that’s what you do when given a lawful order: you comply, or you go to jail.
I want to believe this order led to heated conversations behind closed doors. I want to believe leaders who wanted to do the right thing by the soldiers under their command stood up to their superiors on this, pushed back against the bureaucracy, and were shouted down. I want to believe officers chose to ask for reassignment, accepted relief from duty, resigned their commissions rather than comply. I want to believe the kind of great servant leaders I knew in the Army would not have stood for this abuse.
But the great leaders have had more important things to do the last decade and a half. They have been fighting a war. They haven’t had time to scrutinize every issue that crossed their desks. And this would have come directly from Washington, not through the chain of command. Moral cowardice is much easier when you don’t have to look your victim in the eye, when you don’t know his or her family, when he or she is nothing but a name and a social security number.
The Army is wrong here. It is abusing soldiers who trusted it to offer them what they deserved.
There are positive developments underway. A federal court is set to rule on the issue in January after at least one soldier sued. A petition on change.org may help these soldiers’ voices be heard. And Congress, now that news of the issue has become widespread, is beginning to rumble about getting involved.
Most of us can’t do anything directly to help these soldiers. But we can spread the word to those who can.
Let’s not let these brave men and women be abused in silence. Learn about this for yourself. If this seems wrong to you, sign the petition and spread the word.