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Friday, March 27, 2015

The Truth Will Set You Free

                 The Truth Will Set You Free

Will the Truth really set you free?  I can tell you from personal experience it can and it will.  The Bible says God’s Word is True and every man a liar. Towards the end of my Army career I had to decide if I really trusted the Word of God.  My superiors were determined to kick a soldier who was serving under me out of the Army.  I knew that the story and situation they were using to accomplish their goal was based on lies.  They informed me I had to go along with them or my career would be over.  It came down to a decision of which was more important, my integrity or my career.  Little did I know that just a couple of years down the road the choice I made would actually alter the course of my life.

At the time of the event I was serving as an Infantry squad leader in Germany.  I had spent my first ten years as a parachute rigger. The Army reclassified many people during the downsizing after Vietnam.  I was one of them.  Anyhow one of my men had been caught in possession of drugs.  The way he was caught was the issue.  My superiors violated regulations to catch and charge the man.  As a squad leader I knew he was guilty of what he was being charged with, but the Army had rules concerning search and seizure and those rules were violated to catch the man.  I had already warned him that I knew what he was doing and that if and when I caught him I would see that he was punished to the full extent of the law.  I also told him it would be perfectly legal and he would only have himself to blame for throwing away his career.

My view in the matter was that my men had to put their lives in my hands and be able to trust me.  My superiors said I was making too big of a deal out of the matter.   They said that we were not at war and so what did it not matter.  I argued that principals and integrity were the core values of leadership.  They ended up removing me from the man’s chain of command and proceeded on with his court-martial.  By removing me from the man’s chain of command I had no say so in his trial.  However I was allowed to act as a character witness at the trial. I knew before I walked in the door to that trial that if I did so my military career was over.

At the trial I was called in after the court martial was over.  The man had been found guilty and my superiors were sure they were going to kick the man out of the Army as they intended.  The judge asked me why I was willing to testify to the man’s character and not at the trial.  He asked me to explain in my words what had happened.  As I talked I saw him start to smile and it confused me.  When I finished speaking he said he had already found the man guilty and my only purpose was in determining what the exact punishment would be.  The judge explained to me that he knew I was telling the truth.  I asked how he could know that.  He stated that he had listened to five versions of the story during the trial.  My story was the only one that made sense of all their stories and he said therefore it had to be the truth.  Based on that revelation he decided that instead of kicking the man out of the Army he would fine him $25 and that would be the end of the matter.

Well it may have been the end of the matter for my soldier, but it was the start of a nightmare for me.  I had about 45 days left in Germany and my superiors made my life a living hell.  When it came time to leave they had to write my proficiency report.  Well they gave me one that was the worst I had ever seen.  They gave me a rating of 19 points out of a possible 125 points.  Not only that, they gave me a rating for the previous year at the same rating,  They had failed to do it when it was due.  The irony was that they had promoted me to staff sergeant in the period between the two reports.  To show the significance I had to write reports on a couple of soldiers that got kicked out of the service and I gave them a 75 and an 85 point reports.

After leaving Germany I went to Ft. Campbell, Kentucky for a year or so and then reenlisted for duty in the Panama Canal Zone, which just happened to be at the time of the Canal Zone Treaty.  For some reason I could not deal with the heat and humidity in Panama and it showed in my duty performance. I volunteered to the Department of the Army for discharge under the Qualitative Management Program way back in 1978.  I referenced the two bad efficiency reports from Germany as grounds for my application.  The Army was down-sizing after Vietnam and my request was approved.  I had received bad reports for not being physically fit for duty.  I did not know the irony of that, and that there was a reason, till almost forty years later.  Some time later in 2011 I found out many of my health problems were related to Agent Orange.  I started receiving disability in 2013.  The heat hadn't bothered me in Vietnam, but that was before I found out about Agent Orange and what it did to people. it never crossed my mind the that my inability to perform and my time in Vietnam might be connected.

There is another small irony in all this. Had I not taken typing in high school I may never have been drafted for temporary duty as a legal clerk and learned how to read and use the Army Regulations to my advantage.  I typed and submitted all the paperwork  myself for the Qualitative Management Program Application. I did not mention the fact that I had been promoted between the two EER's. that was sort of an 
"Ace in the hole" that I figured the review board would never see.  However when I filed for my Agent Orange Compensation I included it in the paperwork. I had intended to make a career of the Army, but my health was destroyed without my knowledge. Had I not met a retired Air Force officer and at a Bar B Q and our discussion had not come around to my health condition and my status, I may never have known to file the paperwork. I am sure hundreds of thousands of other people have also not filed because of not knowing.  The government does know who are qualified for the benefits but they have a sort of, don't tell, unless it is bought up policy. 

Had I not told the truth and stood up for the soldier in my squad in Germany it may not have had the same ending.  When I realized I could not do my job I might not have had those bad reports to fall back on.  I decided to get out of the Army and go to college because when I did re-enlist at Ft. Campbell two other NCO’s were denied reenlistment and not allowed to serve until they were eligible for retirement.  One had seventeen years and six months in the service and the other had seventeen years and ten months.  Army policy at the time said if you had eighteen years in the service you were locked in and they had to at least let you finish your twenty years for retirement. Had I served my time out I would have been at seventeen years and eight months and based on those two reports probably been denied re-enlistment.  My decision on leaving if I could was the best option.  One of the two men denied re-enlistment in the Army was based on something he did clear back on his first enlistment in the Army.  The example made clear to me that it might be better to leave, because I was not really good infantry material anyhow.

 Over the course of my twenty years in the trucking industry and going to court and fighting tickets that I felt were unjust and being willing to stand up for myself it became clear to me that many times the truth can and will literally set you free.  It might be good to add that over the years I got a few tickets when I did absolutely nothing wrong and had to pay the fine. It does not take much reflection on my part to know that in reality, I may have been innocent at that time, but many times I should have been busted but I got away with it.  My best friend calls it Karma, but I call it life.

All in all though I have lived a life I have enjoyed and in the end through no planning of my own I have been blessed with a decent income and no longer have to struggle to survive. The Bible says, "The steps of the righteous are ordered of the Lord"  I am not saying I am a righteous person, but I am saying the Lord has opened many doors in my life and made my paths straight, even when I didn't know I was on a path.  Things that I thought had no consequence or purpose served to open doors and give me opportunities that I never dreamed or envisioned and that worked out for my good in the end. From watching a skydiving demonstration by the Golden Knights in my home town, to becoming a skydiving instructor, serving on an Army exhibition parachute team in Europe, writing for a newspaper in the Army, and driving a truck for twenty years after learning to do so in Vietnam via OJT, while running from the Lord. Having four wonderful daughters, seven wonderful grand-kids and two great-grand-daughters that will melt the hardest heart.  Yep I am and have been Blessed beyond understanding.

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