Best Defense

Deployment sex: the lowdown

Here is a note from an Army captain who is serving his country overseas: While Tom expressed quite a bit of dismay at an apparent upsurge in incidents involving inappropriate relationships in the Canadian Army (Brig. Gen. Daniel Menard, and that other Canadian captain, whatever his name is), I’m not surprised. I think we keep ...

shellorz/flickr
shellorz/flickr

Here is a note from an Army captain who is serving his country overseas:

While Tom expressed quite a bit of dismay at an apparent upsurge in incidents involving inappropriate relationships in the Canadian Army (Brig. Gen. Daniel Menard, and that other Canadian captain, whatever his name is), I’m not surprised. I think we keep forgetting that human beings have been thinking about and having sex for all of recorded history: you can read it in writings as far back as Ovid and Pietro Aretino.

Even the Greatest Generation, our noble forefathers, were once described by the British as ‘over-sexed, over-paid, and over here,’ apparently liberating as many European women from the girdle of Nazi oppression as they did from their, eh, you get the point.

It’s no secret that sex happens, even in combat zones, despite General Order Number One (widely interpreted as a ban on sex). It’s little more than a sign of the times. Today’s operational tempo doesn’t lend itself well to relationships with those outside the military, with frequent year-long deployments and a hectic training schedule. It shouldn’t be any surprise that troops are searching for companionship within our own ranks, particularly when they’re cooped up on a FOB or COP with no other means of getting their jollies (even, according to GO1, from porn).   

The case of the Canadian captain caught in an inappropriate relationship with an enlisted soldier is, in my eyes, a grey area. Until ten years ago, relationships between officers and enlisted service members were actually legal in the U.S. Army, so long as there was no superior-subordinate relationship between the two. (As an aside, I’d venture that the distinction between officers and enlisted is far less drastic than it is in the other services, particularly the Navy). With this history, it’s easy for many to view these sorts of relationships not as immoral, per se, but rather, as yet another seemingly-arbitrary policy change. Oddly enough, I’ve seen a number of officer/enlisted relationships result in marriage, resulting in bizarre interpretations of morality. Why did the Army arbitrarily change its tune when it comes to officer/enlisted relationships? (Make no mistake, though:  inappropriate relationships between superiors and subordinates is a clear breach of ethics, even if both parties were both officers or enlisted members)

Most commanders take a stern stance against these sorts of relationships.  Should an investigation find that there was an inappropriate relationship, the next bit of tricky business is ensuring that both parties receive equal treatment. With the Uniform Code of Military Justice being what it is, there are different procedures for punishing officer and enlisted misconduct. Officer misconduct is generally adjudicated by general officers, placing all sorts of attention on these sorts of relationships. An officer might receive a letter of reprimand, and the enlisted party might be reduced a grade. The punishments actually even out — while an officer won’t be demoted, he or she may have to live with the letter in their file for the rest of their career, hurting their chances for promotion. The enlisted party, on the other hand, can always regain his or her lost rank and move on with their career. 

Again, I’ve seen married couples punished under this policy — one which seems to have changed arbitrarily. I do think we need to go back and revisit it."

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at ricksblogcomment@gmail.com. Twitter: @tomricks1

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