The other day a reader had a question about military scholarships…

The other day a reader had a question about military scholarships… May 17, 2013


Another military reader of mine strove to break through Disqus and failed, so she wrote me:

I hope you don’t mind my emailing a comment – disqus and my organization’s firewall don’t seem to like each other.  One of the things the young prospective officer should look at is the length of the obligation incurred by the ROTC scholarship. (Also, how much do you have to pay back if you don’t accept your commission – or for that matter, what happens if you get hurt your junior year are physically dq’d – but I’m sure they’ve looked at that.) So, okay, is the obligated time short enough that you’d get out as a first lieutenant or junior captain and not necessarily have been in a position to enforce policies that you found morally impossible to live with?  If it’s longer than that, is it because you’re looking at a flight contract, wherein you’re possibly not responsible for much more than yourself and your aircraft and its crew?  And then, what are your red lines?

– You’re taking the risk of being ordered to an unjust war, in the first place – that possibility is always there.  Is it a moral obligation for someone under a contract to trash his career and possibly end it in the brig – over a matter of prudential judgment?  We had two popes oppose the Iraq war, but neither of them suggested that Catholics had to leave the US military – nor did any of our bishops.

-Equal opportunity policies – with respect to post-DADT.  You’re going to have to treat your gay troops and their lovers as human beings (which is easy, because they are). They disagree with the Church on at least one issue concerning eternal life, just like most of your other troops and colleagues.  Evaluate them on their professional capabilities without letting those disagreements color your judgment.  This shouldn’t be that hard, if you’re fair-minded and know how to think clearly, and make distinctions between personal and professional.

— DOMA may go away soon, so you may have to help gay couples get their ducks in a row to get family housing on base.  I personally don’t see this as a red line, because people need a place to live. People will commit mortal sins within their dwelling; that’s called being human.  That you know, in particular, the nature of one mortal sin that will undoubtedly take place doesn’t mean you are cooperating with evil by putting them in a house. Your mileage may vary, however, and if you’re looking at possibly being an admin officer, you’re going to be helping people get their BAH with dependents, or base housing, etc.

-Life issues – the way I see it, if my sister gets an abortion, she’s still my sister.  If one of my Marines gets an abortion, she’s still my sister.  The fitrep I write on her will reflect professional capabilities, not her error, as I believe it is – even on a matter of life and death.  But nobody, silver oak leaves, birds, stars, congresscritter, whatever, has the power to make me drive somebody to the clinic.  Nor would they, if I were still a second lieutenant.  Nor would they, if I were a sergeant, and a squad leader, and it was my job to take care of my people a much closer level than officers do.

As far as the religious liberty environment – I see gay marriage eventually taking away dedicated Catholic chapels (there are a few) and maybe chaplains.  I’ve heard that Mikey Weinstein and the Atlantic think that the Army and the Air Force have a huge problem with ‘Christian Fundamentalists’ pressuring subordinates to go to Bible study.  I have heard at second hand of one such incident in the Marine Corps, and I’ve seen a senior officer, at a unit event, say grace before a meal without seeming aware that maybe not everybody there thought there was Somebody to be grateful to.   Nobody has a right to tell you to go to Evangelical Bible study; nobody has a right to tell your people who put NO PREFERENCE on their dogs tags to go to Bible study, or Mass, or any kind of services.  You should try to make sure that people who stand weekend duty rotations have the opportunity to go to church if they so desire.

On the other hand, I haven’t seen a DOD message, or ALNAV or MARADMIN yet saying that because Mikey Weinstein says so, all believers have to keep their mouths shut about their beliefs, and religious speech will be treated like racism.  I haven’t seen anything that makes me feel threatened – except on the internet, which is just the cloud storage for everybody’s id, anyway.   It IS unprofessional and unfair to evangelize your subordinates in a way that puts pressure on them – which might mean, in any way at all, because you can’t tell how somebody is going to react.   Many people believe that nobody should ever know your beliefs (including a retired Viet Nam vet SgtMaj I know who goes to Mass every Sunday, and says he examines his conscience and makes an act of contrition every night).  Again, YMMV.  My office colleagues know I go to daily Mass when I have the opportunity – which I’m grateful to have!

I did send out an all-hands email once, letting people know about Ash Wednesday Mass times on base.  I got a lot of thank-you replies from people who later showed up for Mass; I also got a concerned note from the SJA, who worried that the command might thus be made to appear to endorse the Catholic Church…so  sent out another all hands, noting that the base and the tenant commands didn’t share an email domain, so the chaplains relied on parishioners to get these things out, but that if anyone from any other group that met in the Chapel had a similar off-schedule event, our help desk could send out an all hands for them (I was in the comm section at that command).  My boss was good with it, and it satisfied the lawyer.

So – Air Force climate is going to be a little different from the Marine Corps climate; but so far it still basically boils down to accepting the fact that we live in a really pluralistic society, with a lot of different points of view about personal morality, so treat everybody like a human being, hold people accountable for failings with respect to commonly-agreed upon morality (eg, adultery is still illegal under the UCMJ, and I’ve know 2-3 Marines to be dismissed from the service after non-judicial punishment for it – at least one was still given an honorable discharge, and the others, probably no worse than general, under honorable conditions – so there’s an attempt at balance, and at punishing wrongdoing, but not so that it follows you for life), overlook sins that aren’t sins in the mind of the sinner, judge professional capabilities honestly and dispassionately…  the way the Marine Corps says “love your neighbor” is “know your Marines and look out for their welfare.”  It can’t be much different in the Air Force.  Mission accomplishment is first, troop welfare second – but you’re not going to accomplish your mission if you haven’t seen to troop welfare all along.

In other words, it’s a serious question that deserves serious thought; it’s not an absolute No.  Looking at the comments just now, I think I agree with Skylarke and Laura most – both make very good points about not giving the store away to the secularists (Skylarke) and everybody’s vocation being different (Laura).  I have faith that Stu came by his pessimism honestly, but I don’t share it – for the most part. Knowing what we now seem to know about sexual assault cases, I would discourage a daughter, if I had one, from enlisting in any service.  Commissioning is a different ballgame.

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