I am grateful for a flood of mail from active-duty and retired military people, and their families, expressing admiration and excitement about Barack Obama's choice of Eric Shinseki as his Secretary of Veterans Affairs. (On the merits and symbolism of the choice, here; on the politics, here.)
Below, from reader Larry Senechal of Seattle, a representative note of appreciation. After the jump, from a currently-serving Army officer, a representative complaint -- which may surprise many people outside the military.
First, the appreciation:
I'm an old former Marine, infantry type.
General Shinseki is old school General Officer corps, unlike many Generals and senior officers who go through the revolving door to become Defense contractor lobbyists, media analysts and Defense contractor employees. It seems when this happens "Duty, Honor, Country" are secondary to making money. In my opinion after 37 years of service to this country, this doesn't seem appropriate payback to a country who gave them so much and continues to do so with their OWN legacy costs to the American taxpayer. The stories of just how corrosive this has been on the military services and our Defense policy abound and have yet to be dealt with effectively.
My father was a retired senior Army Officer as was my father-in-law and both highly decorated infantry commanders. My dad often lamented the growing "revolving" door and the poor leadership of many in the General Corps and the dileterious effect it was having on the Army. When the military first started using bonuses during the Clinton years to keep captains and majors in the service, he observed that the retention problem said less about the attractiveness of the private sector and more about the quality of senior leadership who seemed more committed to their careers and less to the men they commanded. I didn't fully appreciate and understand his remark at the time. I now do after the last eight years.
Imagine my surprise when I read an article at MSNBC quoting Shinseki stating,....""You must love those you lead before you can be an effective leader," he said. "You can certainly command without that sense of commitment, but you cannot lead without it. And without leadership, command is a hollow experience, a vacuum often filled with mistrust and arrogance."
Next, the complaint.
From an active duty Army officer:
From everything I've heard, Eric Shinseki is an admirable and decent man and deserves commendation for his service aside from having been visionary about stabilizing postwar Iraq.
That said, in my year-and-a-half since putting on ACUs [Army Combat Uniforms] I've heard only bad things said about him by the rank and file, and that's for something unrelated to Iraq: Shinseki is apparently the genius who decided that we should all wear the beret (which is useless as it provides no shade or or rain or wind protection, and particularly nasty because it takes two hands to put on right, and weighs a ton when wet) as part of our regular uniform in garrison. For that, well, I resent the dude a little as do I think most soldiers.
(Although I've been told that the "we're not special anymore" whining of the Rangers when Shinseki's order came down, was partial compensation. I wouldn't say that too loud at Bragg though....)
* Vox militis is my recollection of how you'd say "Voice of the Soldier" in Latin, in parallel with Vox Populi but with militis as the genitive case of "soldier." If not -- tough! It's been a long time...