- By Thomas E. RicksThomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military for the Washington Post from 2000 through 2008.
By Edward Arnston
Best Defense guest columnist
Sometimes it helps if you say things out loud. I wonder if anyone at the Army’s recent Officer Separation Board said this out loud — “Today, we’re going to separate an African-American, Ranger-qualified armor officer who has earned a Purple Heart and a valorous award while commanding troops in combat; who has served as a general’s aide; and who has graduated from the Army’s School of Advanced Military Studies because he made a mistake eight years ago.”
It’s Friday morning here in Afghanistan. Last Friday, my friend MAJ Charles Slider was notified of his impending release from active-duty service in the United States Army. My immediate reaction to the news was to be upset. After a week of reflection, I’m disappointed. Disappointed for him and, more importantly, for the generation of soldiers that have lost the opportunity to learn from an exceptional leader. As Charles’ friend, I felt for him and his family. As his peer and fellow Army officer, I think the Officer Separation Board (OSB) made a mistake.
I acknowledge that the Army must reduce in size. The OSB is one of the first steps the Army will take to reduce its population from 490.000 to 450,000, or even lower. Without citing historical examples or discussing the national defense budget, we can probably all agree that it’s time for the Army to get smaller. This article will not make the case for why the Army should slow down its release of good American men and women from active duty service to the nation. This article, will however, make the case for why Major Charles Slider should not be released from active duty and should serve as a cautionary tale concerning a zero-defects approach to thinning the Army.
Charles was released from active duty because, as a young captain, he had an alcohol-related incident. He paid the price for his mistake. He was issued a General Officer Memorandum of Reprimand (GOMOR), went through counseling and paid a hefty sum in legal fees. Charles learned from his mistake, though, and went on to become an exceptional leader and teammate. His chain of command recognized his innate future potential and that Charles’ singular mistake did not represent his character. Charles’ leaders helped move his GOMOR to his restricted personnel file — giving Charles a new lease on life as an Army officer.
Given a second chance, Charles excelled. After an assignment with an Army Reserve unit where Charles used his experience to help train reservists prior to their deployments to Iraq, he graduated from the Maneuver Captain’s Career Course and Ranger School. Following Ranger School, Charles deployed with 1st Brigade of the 101st Airborne to Afghanistan where he served as a company commander. Charles not only served with distinction as a company commander in Afghanistan, he was wounded while leading his company — earning both a Purple Heart and the Army Commendation Medal with Valor Device. After command, Charles moved to Fort Leavenworth where he served as a general’s aide, and graduated from the Command and General Staff College and the Advanced Military Studies Program (AMSP) — one of the programs at the Army’s prestigious School of Advanced Military Studies.
Those are the uncommon stats and immeasurable experiences. Charles is a natural and gifted leader and teammate. Here are the atmospherics — Charles is a great person. Hardworking, unselfish and humble, Charles serves as an example of a professional officer — dependable to his superiors, reliable to his peers, and creditable to his juniors. He is, as many of my peers would say, “a great dude,” without even a hint of sarcasm in their voice. In fact, you’d be hard pressed to find anyone who has a negative thing to say about Charles Slider. After spending a year with Charles in Seminar 5 at AMSP, I couldn’t agree more. He is exactly the right person to help coach and mentor young company commanders as a battalion executive or operations officer. Furthermore, at a time when the Army is collectively struggling to build resiliency into the force, Charles has plumbed the depths of physical, mental, and emotional anguish, and recovered to excel in his career and life. The narrative of his career should serve as a positive example to emulate, not a cautionary tale of a zero-defect army. Charles’s path should have been exalted by the Army last week, not ended.
All things equal, the better measure of a person is in how he or she reacts, not acts. Whether you are a military officer or a civilian, we’ve all made mistakes and been given a second chance in our personal or professional lives. A key component to receiving a second chance is an individual’s demonstrated actions following their mistake. Charles has clearly demonstrated his commitment to the nation and the Army, as well as his leadership potential for future assignments. A singular mistake should not define an individual. It certainly doesn’t define Charles Slider. How Charles reacted to his mistake earned him a place amongst our ranks.