Letters From Afghanistan

Good Idea, Bad Idea

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Those who have followed my corrispondance from Afghanistan may have noticed a distinct lack of personal opinion. I generally try to avoid it, and restrict the content of what I write here to details of life on deployment in Afghanistan that typically do not make it to the mainstream media. But today (30 July), while listening to BFBS (British radio station), I heard a story that truly and deeply irked me. Drove me to distraction, in fact. A British soldier is facing disciplinary action for desertion after having left his unit in refusal to deploy to Afghanistan. He plans to argue during his charge parade (summary trial, not courts-martial), that he does not feel that the mission is in British interest, and is in fact a front for American foreign policy. That may be his opinion, to which he is entitled, but there is a right way and a wrong way to go about expressing it. The right way to express his objeciton to deployment would have been to inform his chain of command that he did not want to deploy, then discuss the issue with the unit social worker. What he did was deliberately leave his unit for over 30 days (when AWOL becomes desertion), then when the time came to explain himself, he launched into a political denounciation of his government's foreign policy based on his personal, speculative opinion.

In the general public, there tends to be a great deal of misunderstanding the process of being charged with a service offence. It usually has as much to do with attitude as it does actions. I personally have been AWOL twice in my military career, both times being my fault, yet I was never charged. When I was in my supervisor's office, I explained myself, admitted to my mistake, and did not give any attitude. What he did was use the armed forces as a forum for airing his own opinion, and that is not the correct place.

When we as soldiers join the army, we sign a contract with our employer. In exchange for pay, benefits and training, we agree to abide by a specific code of conduct which involves us sacrificing some of our individual liberties. We are not allowed to show up drunk to work, we have to cut our hair, shave, shine our boots and salute officers. The armed forces, as an apolitical entity, do not prone any particular political viewpoint, and when a soldier chooses to use his job to do so, he violates the agreement - breaches the contract - between himself and his employer, and is therefore subject to breach of contract penalties. There are absolutely no restrictions placed on us when it comes to voting, and this, not a charge parade, should have his forum of choice for acting on his political convictions. My sympathy for this individual is absolutely zero.