Right-wing media outlets like MichelleMalkin.com, The Drudge Report, and the National Review Online have been quick to seize on the footage, hoping to use it as proof that Kossacks don’t practice the free speech they preach. Too bad for them that this was really a dust-up over nothing—brought on by an irresponsible soldier who made it very plain to all of us that the Republican-induced lowering of Army enlistment standards has left us with certain soldiers who respect discredited Republican talking points, but not the law or the uniform of the United States Army.
For the record, here’s what happened from the beginning—starting on Thursday night:
Shortly before Howard Dean delivered his keynote speech on Thursday, over a thousand YearlyKos attendees had gathered in the main ballroom. They were standing in line for dinner, mingling, working on laptops, or looking for friends they’d never met in person. I was a part of this crowd. Also among us was General Wesley Clark. He was dressed casually—walking with two staffers—while he engaged attendees on everything from foreign policy to whether or not they were having a good time.
Suddenly, into the ballroom marched an Army sergeant. And this sergeant was on a mission. You could tell, because he was wearing his Class A green Army uniform.
Being an Army officer myself, I notice this kind of stuff immediately. My first thought was, "WTF is this guy doing? Has he lost his mind?" The thing is, every soldier knows that you don’t take part in politics while you’re in your uniform. It’s not only highly inappropriate—it’s also illegal. And there’s a good reason for it, too: When you wear the uniform, you are representing the military, and it is essential that the military never, ever wade into politics. That’s what banana republics do—and it causes all kinds problems with regard to democratic processes and corruption. Just look at these fine examples of mixing the uniform with politics and governance: Moammar Qaddafi, Fidel Castro, Saddam Hussein, Manuel Noreiga. It’s just not a good idea—and that’s why we don’t do it. Ever. Period.
You can read the regulations here and here. (As an aside, it is legal to use past photographs of yourself in uniform, which is why Pete Hegseth can do it at Vets for Freedom and why we can do it at VoteVets.org.)
The sergeant immediately zeroed in on General Clark and engaged him in a conversation. Eventually, I noticed Clark pull the soldier aside and move away from the rest of the crowd. I could see that the General was getting agitated. I later learned that the soldier had been lecturing him, telling him that the U.S. military should stay in Iraq and that General Clark should support the President’s policies.
Clark is said to have told the sergeant that, while he respected the sergeant’s opinion, political activism while in uniform was both inappropriate and illegal—and to do it at the much-publicized YearlyKos Convention would put the soldier in an unnecessary and precarious legal position. He told the sergeant firmly but politely that it would be in the soldier’s best interest to leave. And that was the end of it until the next day.
After General Clark’s keynote speech the next morning, we began our panel. Not surprisingly (to me, at least) the sergeant returned in his uniform. At this point, the guy was clearly a convention troll. Nevertheless, he sat quietly through the introductions, and then took his place in the line at the microphone, ready to make his case.
By the time the sergeant approached the microphone, though, the time for the panel had already run out. Jon Soltz, acting as the moderator, made the decision that, given the time constraints and the fact that we felt certain the sergeant was about to start a fresh debate (and break the law), he would draw the panel to a close.
This would have happened, had a number of well-meaning Kossacks not spoken up and urged Jon to take the soldier’s question. It was pretty apparent that they wanted to give the soldier a chance to ask a question because they thought he was sympathetic to the Kos cause. Jon allowed to soldier to speak, but not before issuing him a very stern warning—the same warning he had received the previous night from General Clark about political debate, the uniform, and the law. I had my fingers crossed that the guy would listen to the second warning, and just say a word or two, or ask to talk to Jon outside of this political event, and that would be the end of it.
But that wasn’t to be. Instead, the sergeant pulled out a military manual and began lecturing us on "adversity," and how adversity builds character and how it shapes the soldiers that make up the Army. The idea was that those of us on the panel weren’t strong enough to "handle" the adverse conditions in Iraq. Essentially this young soldier was presenting a lecture on adversity to a panel that had a collective Silver Star, three Bronze Stars, a Purple Heart, and eight combat deployments. He then stated that since the beginning of the surge, Iraqi casualties had fallen. Although, on that point, the sergeant was flat wrong.
Soltz, who is still a Captain in the Reserves, at that point had heard all he wanted to hear. As an officer, he took it upon himself to reprimand the sergeant for breaking the Uniform Code of Military Justice, left the stage, and went to confront the soldier. In fact, if he hadn’t reprimanded the soldier, he could have been seen as condoning the act—and none of us wanted to do that. Rather than re-hash what happened next, I invite you to watch it here.
The bottom line is this: The sergeant in uniform was completely out of line as far as the military is concerned. The fact that he did what he did reflected on the entire Army and I think that’s what upset Jon the most.
In the Pajamas Media video of the scene, even the sergeant readily admits that he was breaking the rules. And that’s not what the Army is about. So this wasn’t about stifling dissent. It was about an intruder who had no respect for the Kossacks who’d paid to attend, as well as no desire maintain military bearing while in uniform.
Many civilians may not understand that, but it’s important to those who serve and who have served in the military. Do we get stern with rule breakers? Yep. Do we value discipline? Yep, we do. And we do it for a reason. So Jon may have gotten a little "excited" over the whole thing, but regardless, he was correct: The soldier is not allowed under military law to do what he was attempting to do. This is even something many conservative bloggers have noted.
The conservative bloggers who’ve tried to make Jon look bad over this—like Michelle Malkin, Matt Drudge, and others—have no concept of this. Just like they have no concept of war in general. None of them has ever served the country in any meaningful capacity, and I’m sure never will. They just don’t have it in them. They are war mongers, too cowardly to go themselves—and yet too eager to send others to go in their places. Even as this July was the deadliest July for American forces since the start of the war, even though soldiers are now being sent back on their fifth and sixth deployments, even as enlistment standards are lowered to enhance recruiting efforts, these cowards are still too spineless to physically help out the troops they say they "support."
Disclosure statement: I work for VoteVets.org, of which Jon Soltz is founder and Chairman.
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