Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Educating Silly-Vilians

One of my dearest friends is retired from the U.S.  After 25 years of serving as an enlisted woman in the U.S. Navy – not the usual career path for a graduate of Yale University - she was a “sparky” (that’s a radioman for you civilian types) and since Sue is quite vertically challenged, she is proud to tell you she is a “short wave radio operator.”  One of her favorite expressions is to refer to people who have never been in the military as “silly-vilians.” Occasionally when I would hear some life-long civilian’s misconceptions about the military, I’m reminded of Sue’s expression.

When I was in Alaska, I was once having lunch with co-workers and a woman whose politics are very far left of mine.  She made a comment that someone she knew was in Iraq. Continuing she generalized that they were probably all happy about that because that would give them the chance to use all the drugs that they wanted.  I resisted my initial inclination to break something heavy over her head.  Instead I very firmly but politely told her she was off by 180 degrees.  I said that the military is just about the only place in America where you are in very serious trouble if you possess or use drugs.  In the immediate aftermath of Vietnam, drug use was a horrendous problem in all of the services.  In the late 1970s, there was a horrible accident on an aircraft carrier where more than 10 sailors were killed and half of them had cannabis in their systems.  When I was going through language school in the early 80s, we had people going to Captain’s Mass losing a stripe, half a month’s pay for two months and being restricted to base and getting extra duty for two months.  By the time I finished my enlistment in 1984, there had been dramatic improvement and by the time I was teaching on board U.S. Navy ships in the late 80s and early 90s, the Navy’s program of “operation golden flow” for all hands had made drug use very rare in deed. On the ships I taught, the Navy’s policy was very simple.  Test positive for drugs and you have a one-way ticket back to the civilian world with a less than honorable discharge. I remember hearing officer’s express dismay after two members of a 400 man crew tested positive for pot.  They were chagrined that they even had one pothead on board.

This is a matter where some liberals (if the shoe fits you can jolly well wear it) are acutely contradictory.  They will make jokes about drug use in the service and then express horror when the Services come down really hard on drug abusers.  Many years ago I saw an editorial in the New York Times op-ed section boo hooing about a young officer who had been caught with drugs and had received a general court martial, a dishonorable discharge, and a couple years of brig time.  The writer actually had the chutzpah to state that the defendant had not expected that his off-duty activities could have official repercussions; reading that article made me yearn for the days of the cat of nine tails. I suppose that that New York Times writer would have any objection to a service-man being stoned at 7:55 am on a Sunday morning, after all what’s the worst that could happen.

I was reminded of that issue as I read the memoires of former defense secretary Robert Gates first days at the Pentagon.  Once when he took a break from doing paperwork to answer nature’s call, he heard a knock on the bathroom door.  It was a sergeant with a plastic vile in his hand.  Yes, even the Secretary of Defense had to pass operation golden flow.

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