The Commander-in-Chief Forum through the eyes of a former Marine.

Below is a submission from a former E-3 Lance Corporal with the Marine Corps military police who served two years of active duty and is currently married to an active duty member of the Army.  Due to military restrictions on publicly expressing  political views, the Marine chose to remain anonymous. There is some coarse language, but if you’ve read any of my fiction on this blog or my books, it won’t offend you.  It’s slightly condensed and edited and reflects this Marine’s specific opinion on the Commander-in-Chief Forum and the election in general, not this blog or the Marines Corps.  Enjoy.

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I’ll be following the order the interviews were aired in, so I’ll be starting with Secretary Clinton’s.

I kind of appreciated that the issue with Secretary Clinton’s emails, using non-secure servers to handle classified materials, was addressed right off the bat.

For the most part she met that question head on, however, while she was explaining the process for classified documents she left a few details out. Her big defense was that if there is classified material, there is a heading on the document saying that it is classified, top secret, etc. She was quick to point out that the emails she exchanged did have these headings. What she failed to say was that just because the heading isn’t there, it does not mean that something isn’t sensitive or classified. For example, if she was discussing a particular topic and someone referenced the sensitive information, or if they copied and pasted a segment from the sensitive information, that email is now sensitive and classified, regardless of a header. The general consensus is that if any other person, specifically active duty personnel, had made such a negligent decision, they would have gone to jail in the worst case and lost their clearance and job in the best case.

When Secretary Clinton discussed regretting her decision to go to Iraq it was a little obnoxious. While I give full credit to her for admitting what she views as a mistake and public owning that, it kind of came off a little as a politician switching sides. Whether invading Iraq was the right choice or not, we may never know. We do know there was a huge false pretense (WMDs anyone?) used to justify the war. According to service members who have served in Iraq the biggest failure in the Iraq War came after the invasion. They failed at the core competencies of DSCA (Defense Support of Civil Authorities). The State Department went in, fighting, and failed miserably at the stabilization of the new Iraqi government. This is why we have a continued presence in Iraq while having the same battles over and over again. When Iraq was “defeated”, after the Army and other branches had rolled through defeating the “bad guys,” the State Department was supposed to come in and begin training and creating the new Iraqi Government. They have not done this successfully in any shape or form. You have soldiers now trying to help form a new government, soldiers with no diplomatic training, who are being forced into a rigorous rotation of extended deployments, in order to complete a job that should be under the State Department, not the military.

In addition to this, our military is trained for force-on-force combat, not COIN (Irregular Warfare). Despite the military and State Department seeing irregular warfare in previous encounters in the Middle East, no training was implemented to better prepare the troops.

The next topic was the nuclear treaty with Iran. Secretary Clinton discussed that Iran was rapidly approaching nuclear capabilities and that she had a part in creating a joint force to extend the reach of the U.S. in order to enforce sanctions which kept Iran’s nuclear program at bay. The reality is while Secretary Clinton claims this ended Iran’s race to nuclear capability, that is most likely not true. However, Iran should not be the focus of nuclear concerns according to service members. Russia has already achieved nuclear weapon capabilities, but we’ll get to Russia little bit later in this post.

Secretary Clinton was spot on with her description of problems facing veterans in the VA today. However, most service members feel that in general, the VA has improved. When she specifically mentioned the VA losing medical records, I cheered. I’ve never gone to the VA, as I am a spouse, but I have lost count of the number of times the military medical clinics have lost my records, my children’s records, etc. This is a very real problem in a very technologically advanced world. The VA clearly needs to catch up with the rest of the world on this.

Secretary Clinton also said she refused to privatize the VA. While I personally think this is a good thing, service members feel that there needs to be some sort of hybrid-privatization program. The reasoning being that the care provided by the VA office may not be the best care for a specific case when a privatized doctor could treat it, as well as most likely would have better equipment. Also, not all veterans live near Walter Reed in Washington, D.C. and other big VA facilities, it is both impractical and bad form to expect wounded and injured vets to trek to theses major cities from wherever they are, in order to receive care that could be available from a doctor closer to their home.

The next subject from Secretary Clinton’s interview I’ll be addressing was the staggering and horrible statistic of 20 service members a day (Yes, a day) committing suicide. One of the points Secretary Clinton made was that the stigma associated with reporting mental illness or addiction needs to be removed. However, service members agreed that more and more people are comfortable reporting these issues, which means there is a higher number being reported, which is increasing the statistics. The issue is not with people reporting their concerns, the issue lies within the lower echelons of the chain of command. Too many times lower chain of command members, particularly in tactical units, do not take the reports as seriously as necessary, or [they] allow an environment that discourages reporting, allowing victims to be chastised, mocked, and discouraged from seeking the treatment they need.

Moving on to ISIS, Secretary Clinton said that she did not want to commit more ground troops to fight ISIS. She mentioned air support and using cyber warfare. Air strikes are great if you have a specific target, but there is no way to achieve this without actual boots on the ground gathering intelligence. Also, service members feel that you cannot defeat ISIS alone. Other countries among our Allies need to take a stand as well and create a joint force. America can no longer afford to be everyone’s big brother, fighting all the big battles alone. Secretary Clinton also mentioned the importance of not alienating American Muslims because of ISIS, and I thought that was a brilliant point. What better way to make an easy target for radicalization than to disenchant and alienate Muslim youth by turning on them?

Secretary Clinton also mentioned an intelligence surge to help defeat ISIS and prevent terrorist attacks, which is something service members feel is already happening. She also raised the excellent point of attacking ISIS on the Internet, which is one of their primary recruiting tools. According to service members we are starting to develop a better cyber defense program but we are behind the curve. We are also the only country that doesn’t use outside sources, companies and people with specific cyber warfare skills, in the fight against terrorism.

Overall, I felt like Secretary Clinton spoke clearly and had a plan. There was the usual politicking but I stand by my decision to giver her my vote. She was poised, she knows the daunting job facing her, and she’s clearly done her homework.

Now we move on to Mr. Trump’s interview. On a purely personal and amusing note a service member watching made it five minutes in before saying, “He’s making my head hurt.” I might still be laughing a little. Before we get into specific topics I would like to mention that Mr. Trump never missed an opportunity to disparage the current administration and Secretary Clinton. However, he mentioned, blamed or criticized Obama seven times and Hillary Clinton a mere five.  Mr. Trump does know he’s not running against President Obama, right? Mr. Trump kept repeating the word change, focusing on the old way of politics, potentially trying to implement new things. In the words of a service member, “He puts on a show, and he’s good at it.”

Mr. Trump also mentioned bring in newer generals to replace the “old” generals. Service members think this may be a good idea, as older generals were trained with the force-on-force mentality and in this new era of warfare we need more COIN (Irregular Warfare) training.

On defeating ISIS, Mr. Trump was asked if he had a plan. When pressed, he said he was going to give his generals 30 days to come up with plan. Despite denying this, it sounded an awful lot like he doesn’t really have a plan. He used the excuse of “sharing his plan with enemies” to avoid outlining what strategies he planned to use. As a man on the campaign trail, who wants millions of Americans to count on his plans, this was a weak excuse to me. The general consensus among service members was that these statements, among others, created a rather Putin-esque dictatorship environment. It’s clear that Mr. Trump has no idea how the office of President works and what his role is.

Mr. Trump again implied that Obama and Secretary Clinton created ISIS by the disaster that was the Iraq War(Which is actually untrue -Ed.). He made statements that we should have “taken the oil.” When asked how that would be achieved, he said we would leave people behind to guard the oil fields. He also said the spoils of war used to go the conqueror. This proved to me that Mr. Trump missed the entire point of the Iraq War. We were not at war with Iraq, we were at war with the regime running Iraq. Once the regime was removed, Iraq’s oil fields and government should have been returned to the Iraqi people. The idea of defeating Saddam Hussein’s regime just to take the oil would have been like Abraham Lincoln freeing the slaves, then taking the clothes off their backs. Mr. Trump was woefully uneducated on the war and the ongoing mission in Iraq.

Mr. Trump was asked if receiving an intelligence briefing had changed his perspective on the many ongoing issues facing our nation. He denied changing his mind, but he did try say that the “body language” of the intelligence officials giving the briefing showed their frustration with President Obama and Secretary Clinton, that the administration did not listen to what they were advised to do. I don’t know how he could possibly have interpreted that.

When asked about a compliment from Russian President Vladimir Putin, Mr. Trump said he would take the compliment and tried to defend Putin’s human rights violations with Putin’s allegedly high approval rating. Mr. Trump said that Russia was just as invested in defeating ISIS as the U.S. According to service members, this is not true. Russia doesn’t care about ISIS in the bigger picture, they simply care about increasing their territory and re-appropriating territory lost during World War I and II. Mr. Trump referred to Putin as “a leader” and said he felt that they would be friends and he would be able to handle the recent issues of Russian aggression. Mr. Trump seemed to be under the impression that he would be friends with Putin and negotiate peace. My thoughts on this are that Putin is a very intelligent and successful politician and dictator. He knows Trump is ruled by his ego. Putin will stroke Trump’s ego, and then do what he intended to do from the begin, which is increase Russia’s military force and territory. Trump will be nothing but a pawn playing into Putin’s hands.

When Mr. Trump was asked about the VA hospital system, he said he would not privatize it, despite Secretary Clinton implying that was his intention. He then said his plan was to eliminate waiting by allowing service members to seek care outside of the VA. He also pointed out corruption in the VA system. His plan sounds nice in theory but he has no idea how the VA or Military insurance systems work. He would essentially be creating another line, to put people from the first line into. In order for military members and veterans to seek outside help, they must see their primary care doctor and receive a referral. This process can take up to 10 days after they’ve received the referral, but they still have to see the doctor. Mr. Trump would be better to work on the actual VA than try to create outside care, with the exception of people who cannot readily access the VA facilities.

On the subject of sexual assault in the military, Mr. Trump said its gotten worse, because the number of reports have increased. In general, service members feel that it hasn’t gotten worse. More people are feeling comfortable coming forward to report sexual assault. He also implied in a 2013 Tweet referenced in the interview that sexual assault was a result of men and women being forced together. This completely ignored very prevalent male-on-male sexual assault and the few reported female-on-male sexual assault. Mr. Trump blamed the court system in the military, and to an extent he was right, but the issue lies again with the lower members of chain of command. Most of the times when an incident is reported, it is the commander’s discretion as to how to proceed. I have witnessed firsthand where a man arrested five different times for assault was released with little to no consequences because of his friendship with the commander. A higher level of accountability to lower chain of command would be the solution to this. If a commander has to face his higher ups and explain exactly why he made the decision he made, I’m willing to bet there would be more accountability and less personal influence in these decisions.

I also grudgingly admit, as does the active duty military member I spoke to, that Mr. Trump was right in saying out military was depleted. We’ve been expanded beyond our capabilities fighting battles for other countries and policing the world. We are outmanned and outgunned by Russia and China, to only name a few. This is a multi-faceted problem, and Mr. Trump’s answer of “Make America Strong Again” is not going to cover it. We’re depleted because of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. We’re depleted because of the many many war contracts, most created during the Bush Administration, where we have civilian employees replacing military members for basic jobs: everything from secretaries, to police, to gate guards. On average these civilian employees make [up to] three times more than military members and are nearly impossible to fire. So when Congress meets and says the military budget is too high, guess what gets cut: weapons development, service members themselves, training. These are vital and crucial areas that are suffering in order to maintain civilian employees. This is something I have strong feelings about and could probably go on all night about, but hopefully this showed you the point.

Regardless of your views I hope you take the time to research these topics and others, watch every interview you can, of either candidate, and when you decide who you’re voting for, make it an educated decision!

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Who do you think will be a better Commander-in-Chief? Comment your thoughts below, but more importantly, show it at the polls.

Don’t forget to vote, my friends.

No apologies,

G. Miller

Photo credit: Bill Dickinson

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