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Honor, Courage, and Commitment...Are These Values Still Alive?

Recently on a LinkedIn post of Chris Reardon, a woman asked for perspective on the recent investigation into a midshipman's social media posting of distasteful speech along with a question mark of the elevation of another midshipman. Wanting to comment on her post in a thoughtful manner, I am writing the blog below which is linked in a response to her LinkedIn comment!

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Good day to you. First off, I want to thank you for taking the time to comment on my post celebrating the Marine Corps’ 245th birthday. Your comments brought me back in time to when I was a midshipman at the US Naval Academy (Class of 2007).

First off, regarding your comment I believe alluding to the recent midshipman selected to be the brigade commander for the Class of 2021, MIDN 1/C Sydney Barber. I recently heard about Sydney’s selection to being the 16th woman to lead the brigade of midshipmen and this announcement and your comment brought me back in time about 14 years ago. From looking at the USNA article linked here, Sydney Barber is an exceptional young lady from both a competence and character perspective. Reading her accomplishments make me recognize the many things I personally share in common with Sydney besides our obvious differences. Besides our mutual love for our country and a desire to serve as an officer in the Navy/Marine Corps team, for one, I was a Mechanical Engineering major at the USNA like she is. Two, I served on the Brigade Staff in my second semester of my senior year like she is being asked to do. Three, I remember what it was like waiting for selection for the hopes of my first choice of Marine Corps Ground. Four, I was a leader in Christian faith based extracurricular activities like she currently is. Like her, I also had, and still have a heart to make a difference both in the military and in my country in terms of elevating the character and condition of the mutual great country we are honored to live in. Reading your comment and the article also brought flash backs to when my friend Jade Dunivant (then with the last name Baum) was selected to lead the Brigade of Midshipman for the Class of 2007 in the Spring Semester. Jade was an exceptional young lady and is an exceptional woman who went on to become a Marine Corps Ground Officer, wife, mother, and public servant as a fitness business owner as well as a military spouse following her time in the Marines. Jade also came from “Lucky 13” the same company that Sydney is from and served under then Capt Shane Groah, a USMC Officer who made a deep impact on myself regarding the positive character traits of a Marine Corps Officer as a professional mentor that still carries over to today when I went through Leatherneck training much like Sydney did in Quantico. Like Sydney, during the time that I went to school with Jade, I feel the good Lord used her in my life in an incredible manner when I was searching for hope in a dark season of life at that time when I was searching for answers to deep questions needing to be answered as I prepared for life in the adult world and as a Navy/Marine Corps Officer. Jade is like a sister to me and reading about Sydney made me instantly think back to Jade. Jade during her season as the Brigade Commander led the brigade well with a spirit of teamwork and unity and I am confident that Sydney will do the same for her current generation as part of the Class of 2021. The selection process is arduous and no doubt, her exceptional talent, passion, character, and proven leadership to this point have been the reason why she was selected to lead the great Brigade of Midshipmen...future leaders of the Navy and Marine Corps team…and America. From my personal opinion, not in an official capacity, but from the perspective of an active duty Marine Corps Officer with 13+ years in since my graduation who has served with all types of people abroad and in the US, I want it to be put on record that I would be honored to have Sydney serve with me in the Fleet Navy or Marine Forces. I’m confident her Sailors and Marines will be blessed to have her as their leader and that she will serve her leaders, peers, and nation well wherever she goes in life.

Second, I would like to offer a perspective on your other comment regarding Chase Standage. I looked into a little about his story and I would like to offer you a different perspective on his situation that may not meet the eye at first glance. First off, Naval Academy midshipmen, just like other service academy students and ROTC college students, are not just college students. They are officers in training. That means that following their short time of studies, they will be put in charge of America’s sons and daughters to lead them in peace…and in war. This is a grave responsibility and the Navy and Marine Corps rightfully through an arduous selection starts with congressional nomination screening or other vetting through 4 years of difficult training. This ensures that only the most qualified young men and women are put in positions of authority and responsibility to steward the lives and actions of the best our great country has to offer. Thus as officers in training, midshipmen are held to higher standards than other young men and women and rightfully so. From the beginning of training (at least from when I started and I highly doubt things have changed that much) you are taught that being a “naval officer” means you are a public figure. As such, you hold the right to your freedom of speech, religion, etc. but at the same time you are also expected to conduct yourself in a manner consistent with the values of Honor, Courage, and Commitment and speak in a sober and not flippant manner in the public forum especially in regards to sensitive matters concerning the lives of fellow Americans. Military professionals in general are taught they can openly speak about their opinions on personal social media, but with this right they also have the responsibility placed on them due to their personal choice to be placed in a higher public leadership capacity. As such, they must ensure that their speech is with grace and doesn’t reflect poorly on the uniform they wear because like it or not, while we serve, we represent an institution and legacy of brave men and women who have gone before us, currently serve, and will serve. The American people expect no less. When one’s actions which include flippant speech violate this standard, especially when looking to have authority over Sailors and Marines in just a short time, it calls into question whether an officer in training has the character to be trusted in making right decisions on and off the battlefield that will certainly impact the lives and destinies of fellow Americans and those around the world.

During my Spring Semester at the Naval Academy, I was selected to be the Brigade Conduct Officer which meant that I assisted senior officers, particularly two different O-6 ranking Commandant of Midshipmen (both Navy Captains) with making difficult decisions on justice to be merited for issues related to conduct of midshipmen. I especially was witness to proceedings where administrative discharge from the Naval Academy was on the table, not a light decision based on the grave ramifications for the individual in question balanced with that of the Department of the Navy. I can assure you from my time observing these proceedings and having leadership roles in playing an investigating officer in my active duty time, being a character witness in military justice proceedings, and observing military justice matters on difficult matters of conduct in the military, the Navy and Marine Corps leaders I have observed take these decisions with the utmost gravity. They weigh all the factors to merit to the best of their ability that of justice and mercy, the individual’s actions and future, and the good of the institution. Your comment in particular brought me back in time over 13 years ago when another relatively senior midshipman was being weighed for decision on his future based on negative conduct. The Commandant weighed all the facts of the matter, listened to all sides, and then made a decision to separate this midshipman because she could not trust that in a few months based on the experience of that particular midshipman's character demonstrated by a history of actions that he could be trusted to turn his character around and be a good example of leadership to Sailors and Marines.

Regarding Chase, I am not the judge who will make a final decision on his destiny as a future Navy or Marine Corps Officer. That will be decided by other authorities and is not something I will comment on since it is out of my lane. What I can say though is that based on the comments he made on Twitter demonstrating through his words in a public forum a callous attitude in mocking the life of a first responder asleep in her own home saying quote her justice was received and these riots would’ve been over a whole lot quicker if police officers could kill unarmed people; end quote naturally raise alarm bells for senior Navy and Marine Corps leaders who recognize that the use of force, especially lethal force, must be used with the utmost discretion is never something to be taken lightly, especially for officers placed in authority to make those calls. When a midshipman callously puts out in public words betraying an inner attitude that wontonly disregards the human life of his fellow Americans nonetheless, that naturally brings to question their character and fitness especially to make difficult life and death decisions that will impact fellow Americans as well as people around the globe.

When I was a midshipman, I recall General James Mattis, USMC (Ret), a legendary character among Marines and military members alike as well as the American people, come to speak to the Brigade of Midshipman during a Forrestal Lecture series. He told a story where he made a hard decision in the heat of a moment to not kill a surrendering Iraqi Soldier which if I recall correctly was regarding an incident that took place during the Persian Gulf War. General Mattis had scene a horrific scene of a mutilated woman who had been desecrated by individuals in that situation who the task of burial was given to fellow Marines. At that time, I believe Jim Mattis was a Lieutenant Colonel and he saw red feeling the great tempation to shoot the surrendering soldier in an act he felt of justice although he knew deep down that he did not have the authority to decide the life of that soldier especially given he didn't know the facts of the crime at hand. He reeled himself in and took the soldier prisoner later to find out that soldier had nothing to do with the incident. James Mattis went on to become one of the most respected Generals in the Marine Corps, our nation’s history, and even rise to the level of a Secretary of Defense whom I was honored to serve under while on active duty. After this particular incident, the next day, I was in a Physics Class where the Marine Corps Captain leading the class asked us to put our books away to continue the conversation that Jim Mattis started the day before. He told us his own story of being in Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003 after a difficult fire fight as an infantry officer. He had Iraqi Soldiers who had just waved the white flag of surrender over a distance away from his Marines who just a short time ago were lethal threats. He had a fire mission dialed in (artillery strike to a specific enemy location), and was ready to make the call over the radio to fire when he heard an enlisted Marine holler about the white flag. My instructor recalled that he wanted to disregard the Marine hollering and order the mission, but he chose not to. As a result, he maintained the moral high ground with his Marines and they saw that the heat of battle did not mean that the principles that the US armed forces abide by such as the Law of Armed Conflict go out the door. He then went on to say that when officers disregard these principles in action, their enlisted people take notice and go on to do things that were seen in the Vietnam War such as killing people that you ought not too and then putting rifles in the hands of dead people on the battlefield to cover up war crimes. I never forgot that lesson as it resonates with me today that I must control my passions in the heat of the moment to not make a willful decision that will negatively impact others and that I most certainly will regreat. War crimes by men and women in the US Armed Forces have left a stain on the history of our armed forces and the Navy and Marine Corps team wants to learn from history and develop ethical leaders for today and the future.

I say all that to tell you that as you take up the banner of freedom in terms of political activism that there is more than meets the eye in current circumstances at the US Naval Academy and in the US military as a whole. I salute your passion to support the Bill of Rights and Constitution as I have sworn my life and sacred honor to defend these documents. I stand ready to defend our great republic while recognizing because of the special trust and confidence ultimately placed in me by the American people that I have a special responsibility to guard my actions and speech in a manner keeping with the traditions of the uniform I wear. Ultimately, that is the matter at stake in my mind at least in terms of the recent selection of MIDN 1/C Sydney Barber and the investigation into MIDN 1/C Chase Standage.

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Semper Fidelis,

Chris Reardon

Major, US Marine Corps

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