CDR Salimander, one of the better mil-bloggers out there, has an excellent discussion of recent data showing that Army morale is low despite a six-year, $287million dollar campaign to make soldiers more optimistic. In the midst of this he also brings in a discussion of allegations that Army ROTC Cadets at Arizona State University were pressured to participate in "Walk A Mile In Her Shoes" events earlier this month that involved shedding their issued combat boots and donning red high heels -- in uniform -- to combat rape, sexual assault, and gender violence. One cadet alleged that he and others had been told that failure to participate would result in a negative counseling statement and possible ramifications for failing to support the battalion's mission in the packets that are used to assess cadets for branch selection and active duty -- no idle threat, particularly in an Army that is projected to shrink. It turns out that the Army supported this campaign last year but that in 2015 there was an increased emphasis to participate, especially in Army Cadet Command. I've received word that there was some participation at The Citadel and my source is himself a Citadel graduate -- not someone who likely would say that that had happened if it were not the case.
It should go without saying that no sane or decent person is for rape, sexual assault, or gender violence, but having men dress like women -- especially when in the case of ROTC cadets those men are young, eager to get positive recommendations, and doing so under pressure, is not the way to do it.
On 29 September 1988, while a senior in high school, I enlisted in the South Carolina Army National Guard and was assigned to Headquarters Company, 1-263rd Armor in Mullins. Not a few of the older soldiers were Vietnam veterans -- including a few officers who'd either had a break in service or attended OCS later in their careers -- and 1SG Charlie Lee, who could often be seen puffing on a Falcon System pipe and retired shortly after I joined the unit had a Combat Infantryman's Badge from service in the Korean War. On 5 June 1989, a few days after graduating from high school, I reported to Fort Jackson, South Carolina, for Basic Training, and while practically none of my drill sergeants were Vietnam veterans the Company First Sergeant was as was the Brigade Commander and most of the Sergeants Major. After a hot and harried summer I reported to Georgia Military College, in Milledgeville, Georgia (and in the interest of full-disclosure I am not sure whether or not the Walk a Mile in Her Shoes even was promoted there or not), where I was in the Corps of Cadets and the Early Commissioning Program, being commissioned in Armor in December of 1991 and attending the Armor Officer Basic Course at Fort Knox, Kentucky the following year.
I didn't appreciate it at the time but those were interesting times. Many of the senior leaders and even a few of the mid-level ones in the Army that I joined had been through Vietnam or had entered the Army following the hollowing out that followed and had rebuilt the service into the force that I joined that was able to perform so magnificently in Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm -- the immediate aftermath of which was clear at Fort Knox in the Spring and Summer of 1992. These were the guys who made do with less in lean times and enjoyed and took advantage of the Reagan buildup and our nation is in their debt.
My intention had been to make the Army a career but while at Fort Knox, to no ones surprise more than my own, I began sensing a call to ordained ministry and so after returning home and serving as a tank platoon leader while finishing my undergraduate work I went instead to seminary while remaining in the Army Reserve in various capacities for a while. Serving in a Training Support Brigade and later a Corps-level Engineer Brigade, both of which were co-ed, was a different experience than the all-male Armor units I'd been used to, but I enjoyed my service and got to serve alongside some great soldiers, male and female. My service was unremarkable, but I am thankful to have served.
When I enlisted and later prior to being commissioned I was asked if I'd ever even had thoughts that indicated homosexual inclination; I hadn't and said so -- these were the days before Don't Ask, Don't Tell, and those were standard questions. In 1992 Bill Clinton was elected President and had said that he'd lift the ban on homosexuals serving in the military -- as a new platoon leader I listened to a lot of grumbling from my soldiers before the compromise of DADT was reached. Before and after that if I served with any homosexual soldiers I was unaware of it -- but as a convinced heterosexual I didn't go around announcing my own activities and inclinations either.
Now, of course, that policy has been lifted to the relief of some and the concern of others. I would imagine that in almost all if not all units the troops will drive on because that's what they do, but pressuring male cadets and soldiers to don high heels is promoting an agenda and that kind of social engineering isn't going to help matters one iota and those that are imbibed with the warrior ethos are likely to be repelled rather than attracted by it.
Friends of mine who are more connected with the military than I am -- some of whom are still serving, some of whom are recently retired -- tell me we seem to be replicating the hollowing out that took place in the years that followed Vietnam. I hope I'm wrong, but I worry that we may not be able to bounce back from it this time.