Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Army got it horribly wrong

(sequel to "Army got it Right")

Last week, the Department of Defense (DoD) reneged on its policy that allowed elite athletes like Caleb Campbell to pursue a career in professional sports. When questioned by the local media, Rod Marinelli had to give the “politically correct” response to that asinine decision because a). he is an NFL head coach and b). he is a military veteran. So, I’ll be frank in his place. The fact that “military intelligence” is almost always the first example given when defining “oxymoron” should suggest that the DoD doesn’t need any more bad publicity. Apparently, the geniuses at the DoD thought otherwise.

Here is a quick rundown on how things went for Campbell. The DoD passed an Alternative Service Option (ASO) program in 2005. The program gave athletes who were good enough to play professionally—like Campbell—the chance to do so while filling their military obligations as recruiters. It became apparent early in the 2007 college football season that Campbell had a realistic shot at making an NFL roster—a requirement for the ASO—in 2008. He went to the scouting combines and pre-draft workouts following the NFL season. He was selected by the Detroit Lions in the 7th round. Campbell agreed to terms on a contract with the Lions on July 22, one day before training camp. He was issued a helmet and jersey and was set to fulfill his dream. Then, the ad-wizards at the DoD gave him a call. Apparently, the DoD had changed the policy on July 8th but didn’t think it was necessary to inform Campbell of the change until July 23, the day training camp was to begin.

Whether the ASO was a good idea or not has been hotly debated over the last six months. Some suggested it was unpatriotic. Most felt otherwise. Personally, I think the program would be mutually beneficial as the athlete would get the opportunity to fulfill the dream of playing professionally while the army would get the benefit of having a professional athlete as a high-profile recruiter. David Robinson is probably the greatest recruiting tool the Navy athletic department could ever dream of. However, whether the ASO was right or wrong is irrelevant. The only thing that matters here is how coarse the DoD was in handling this situation.

Anybody who is familiar with life in the military knows that the army does this sort of things to its soldiers frequently. Whether it’s instituting stop-loss a month before a soldier’s ETS (End Term of Service) or extending deployments, the military does a good job of sticking it to its soldiers. In fact, if a business tried to treat its employees the way the army treats its soldiers, nobody would want to work for it. The army actually forces its soldiers to count Saturdays and Sundays when taking leave. If a soldier wants to take leave from a Friday through the next Sunday, he/she would have to use 10 personal/sick days (including two Saturdays and two Sundays) instead of the six days of work that are actually missed. Unions would have a field day if a business ever tried doing that to its employees. The DoD also weaseled its way out of paying six years worth of money that was rightfully owed to its civilian employees. The DoD failed to pay COLA (cost of living allowance) for 12 years even though it was mandated by congress in 1995. Instead of copping to the mistake and paying 12 years worth of COLA, the DoD said that six of the 12 years would not be paid because the statue of limitations ran out. It’s amazing that the DoD treats men and women who sign up to defend America worse than any legitimate business would treat its employees. These are the people who should be treated with the most respect.

The military can do this for a number of reasons. First, few people care about the trials and tribulations of the average soldier. A letter to a congressman might help remedy a situation or two but, for the most part, the army can do whatever it wants, whenever it wants without having to answer for it. Second, there is no watchdog organization to bring attention to such injustices. In the real world, a Human Resources Department acts as a liaison between the lower-level employees and management. The army has an HR Department but its responsibility is to process paperwork. Soldiers have little to no recourse. The government owns them and it certainly acts like it.

So, it was no surprise at all to see the army “railroad” another one of its soldiers with its treatment of Campbell. However, it was a surprise to see the army do it in the “public eye.” I am shocked that anyone in government thinks what the army did to Campbell was acceptable. I cannot believe there hasn’t been a public outcry against such a ridiculous decision. If I didn’t know any better, I would think that the army’s decision was some kind of sick joke. The day before training camp? You’ve gotta be kidding me.

The DoD, for its part, is playing the “confuse people into indifference”-game and it seems to be working. Army spokeswoman Lt. Col. Anne Edgecomb pretty much sums up the army’s incompetence at handling this matter. She said, “We want to take care of soldiers and dashing their hopes is not what we intend. But it is what it is.”

It is what it is? What is that supposed to mean? A non-sequitur is what you would expect in a situation like this and a non-sequitur is what we got. It is what it is because the army made it that way. Dashing Campbell’s hopes is exactly what the army did. In fact, there would have been no “hope” to dash if the army didn’t institute the policy in the first place. It made the rule; it should be responsible enough to live with the consequences. Instead, it took the easy way out by going back on its word. It sounds like the army is setting a real good example for its soldiers. Duty. Honor. Country. I’m not sure how this decision could be even remotely classified as honorable. The DoD not only screwed over Campbell but it also screwed over the Detroit Lions. An NFL franchise took the army at its word and used a 7th round draft pick on a player who was eligible to play in the NFL according to the army’s own ASO program. There is no question in my mind that Marinelli has to be disappointed that his brethren mislead him into believing Campbell was available. He might not publically admit his disappointment but it would be impossible for him not to be.

Soldiers are held to a higher standard. Right or wrong, that is the way things are. However, a person who chooses to risk their life to defend the freedoms of America deserves to be treated with a higher standard. Campbell’s situation is just another example to show that the army has no interest in doing that. I realize that this will all blow over and nobody will care about it six months from now just like every other instance when the military does something totally crappy to its soldiers. I just want to go on record saying that this isn't right.


Bill Morran said...

I'm as conservative as they come, and there's no disagreement on that post. As far as I'm concerned, with Campbell recieving an NFL contract, he longer was associated with the Army academy, and has no other obligation other than recruiting other soldiers.

A rule like that should be grandfathered in. Any recruits from after the policy change (so any after July 6th), should be the only ones affected by it, because none of the others who expect to be going to the NFL agreed to those rules. If I were Campbell, I'd sue.

Jake said...

Thanks, Bill. With all of the luck soldiers have had suing the military (none), Campbell probably doesn't need any more headaches.


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