Archive for July, 2016

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With the recent shootings involving police and African Americans across the United States from Baton Rouge and Minnesota to Dallas, there is total chaos everywhere. People are voicing their outrage. Those sympathetic to destroying police, those sympathetic to defending gun rights, those sympathetic to #blacklivesmatter, #bluelivesmatter, #alllivesmatter, black nationalism, white supremacy, police brutality, the list goes on. Again our nation is in a state of unrest. Murder has been committed, and rather than work towards love and compassion, political views continue to divide society.

As with millions of other Americans, there are so many thoughts that have gone through my head. What did the victims do wrong? Were the police in danger? Did the race of the victims matter?  Were the killings justified?  But as I reflect, there is one thought that comes to my mind. Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, Blane Salamoni, Howie Lake, Jeronimo Yanez, Brent Thompson, Patrick Zamarripa, Michael Krol, Lorne Ahrens, Michael Smith, Micah Johnson…any one of those men could have been one of my Soldiers.

As an officer who has served in the United States Army and the Army National Guard, I have had the honor of working in some of the most diverse organizations in our nation. I have served side by side with Soldiers who are Black, White, Asian, Hispanic, among many other races. Very few of them are purely one race or ethnicity. What bonds us together is that no matter what color our skin is, we are all Soldiers. We all have the same opportunities to serve and to achieve excellence through the quality of our performance. There is no such thing as White Soldiers or Black Soldiers; there are only Soldiers.

When I first saw the videos of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile dying in a pool of blood and published all over social media, I immediately felt uneasy and haunted. I watched each of the videos only once, and as I lied in my bed that night, I thought…could this have happened to one of my Soldiers? In the Army, a Soldier who is Black, Hispanic, or any other minority is treated with the same respect as any other Soldier. He/she is held to the same standards and enjoys the same benefits. When off duty, they are still protected under the Constitutional rights for which they defend. This includes the right to freedom of speech and the right to bear arms.

My concern is that in the wake of these shootings, there is still a significant percentage of Americans who do not see American society the same way. Stereotypes, profiling, racism, and extremism all still exist among our streets.  A Soldier who experiences respect in uniform might not experience the same reception when out of uniform and away from the military community. I have Soldiers who are minorities and own firearms because they enjoy activities such as hunting, competitive shooting and marksmanship while off duty – not because they want to kill people or start trouble. It haunts me that in the video of Philando Castile in particular, he was killed in front of his family even after he stated that he had a concealed carry license. What if Castile was a Soldier? Would the policeman who shot him have reacted any differently?

It is not only the Black men who were killed that troubles me; it is also the police in Dallas who were killed. The Dallas Police were doing exactly what the city had hired them to do – protecting those engaged in peaceful assembly. Five of them were killed for no good reason, thus bringing terror to a gathering for healing. Four of those killed were white, one of them was Hispanic. Additionally, two of them were veterans – one from the Navy and one from the Army. To many veterans, a career in law enforcement is an honorable one. It is a chance to continue your service to your country and to protect all Americans. In the National Guard and Reserves, it is very common for Soldiers to also serve as police officers in their civilian professions. And it pains me to think…those officers who were killed in the line of duty could have also been my Soldiers. Rather than being looked at with respect, the police are looked at by some Americans with anguish, resentment and hatred. Do the actions of a few police officers justify the killing of any police officers?

An even more terrible part of all this is the man who killed the Dallas Police Officers. He was also a Soldier. I do not know much about his military career other than that he was in the Army Reserve and deployed to Afghanistan. I have read reports that he was investigated for sexual harassment and the character of his discharge is unclear. However, what I do know is that he was radicalized by extremists who swayed him towards committing violence upon other human beings. He took the training and responsibility that the US Army gave him and turned it against his own countrymen. An article in The Daily Beast stated that the victim involved in the sexual harassment investigation said she wished that Johnson would “receive mental help.” This opens up another closet of demons that still affects Soldiers and veterans: mental and behavioral health issues. Be it anxiety, depression, or PTSD, these issues run deep among the military community, with many service members not receiving the help they need. It is an understatement to say that Johnson did not get the necessary help for his mental issues. But how many more Soldiers are going through the exact same things, and how many could be radicalized the way he was? Will other Soldiers die because of this extremism?

I do not write these words to formulate a solution to the problem, but perhaps there is a way to integrate the values of the military to work towards a better country. As I stated before, in the Army we look at ourselves as Soldiers, no matter our sex, gender, race, religion, ethnicity or national origin. What if the rest of Americans could do the same thing? We don’t have to look at ourselves as separate groups based on outward appearance. We can all consider ourselves Americans. Perhaps then we can work towards a greater unity of effort, and someday we won’t need the hashtags of #blacklivesmatter, #bluelivesmatter, etc anymore. We will just live our lives together.