I’m a close-combat veteran. Close-combat vets are those troops who go face-to-face with the enemy to kill them. I spent two years as an infantryman in Vietnam—as a rifle platoon leader and then as a rifle company commander—the later during the Tet Offensive of 1968. In my 6-months as a rifle platoon leader my platoon was in some kind of contact with the enemy at least weekly, often much more frequently; we were constantly out looking for him. Some of our contact was for 15 seconds; some for 15 minutes—some longer. While I did fire my weapon at the enemy, my role was to direct the fire and maneuver of my troops; none of my troops were killed by the enemy on this tour. My second tour was during Tet 68; we were in daily contact with the enemy, often in large numbers; sometimes for extended periods. I did more personal shooting, saw many of my men die, saw civilian bodies—they’d been mass-murdered by the enemy—and, yes, saw enemy dead and dying. I never shot someone and watched him die. I never suffered in any what from having participated in close-combat—though some very good troops do. Combat isn’t close-combat until you’re face to face with people who want to kill you—and you’re there to kill them. Most people in our military don’t get here.
Despite my time in close combat I never really carried any hate for my enemies. While I knew many of them did many evil things, I presumed that most were just being soldiers, doing what they were told. I was willing to, and did, kill them, but there was no hate in my motivation.
Now, snipers live in another world. I directed fire against groups or areas or maneuvers. Snipers look through a telescopic sight, see a human face, and put a bullet through it. And if they’re good at what they do, they do this many, many times. I’m not sure how I would have handled that kind of stress.
A gent who has been in the media a lot lately ins Navy SEAL Chief Edward Gallagher—a sniper and a man who had been nominated to be SEAL Chief of the Year by his SEAL Command. He had eight combat deployments to both Iraq and Afghanistan, had been decorated for valor multiple times, and was then charged by the Navy with murdering enemy participants—using drugs, and other things.
These charges apparently were raised by poorly performing SEALS on his team; it now appears that they were lying. Either way, everyone has the presumption of innocence until proven guilty. These accusing SEALS, who were deployed with Gallagher, had been removed from the fight in Mosul, by Gallagher, due to their poor performance in heavy combat.
It turns out that the Navy prosecutor in Gallagher’s Court Martial had the Chief incarcerated in solitary confinement. His wife and children and his attorney had very limited access to him.
The prosecutor allowed Navy Investigative Agents to treat the Chief’s family in an unbelievable manner. While the Chief was incarcerated in solitary confinement, Naval Agents aggressively assaulted his residence; Chief Gallagher’s wife, Andrea, and his innocent children (age 17 and 9), were dragged into the street in their underwear at gunpoint.
And, as I suspect you already know, Chief Gallagher was found not-guilty of all charges—except one where he had a picture taken of him with a dead enemy. As a result of this conviction, he was reduced in rank one grade (he will no-longer be a Chief Petty Officer) and allowed to retire as he just reached 20 years of service.
I’m delighted that he was found guilty of serious crimes—but guilty of taking a picture with a dead enemy? What kind of crime is this? Think about spending a career as a sniper—regularly watching as you blow the heads off of enemy troops. Would it shock you if I suggested that he probably dehumanized them in his mind—as a way of surviving? Is this an unrealistic thing to do? Might it manifest during times of stress by horrible things—like picture taking? Yes, the picture was stupid and unprofessional—but life & career ruining?
Oh, and remember that all of these enemies are war criminals—terrorists—they dress like civilians and hide behind them; they are beneath contempt. If you were in combat and saw what seemed to be a bunch of civilians watching you and your troops and one of them seemed to be holding a gun—would you politely wait to see what might be happening—and wait until that person perhaps shot you or a team member—or would you take them out? I know that I want all of our troops to be free to protect themselves from this kind of potential attack.
Gallagher did his job extremely well for our nation for 20 years, and he’s going to be reduced in rank for taking a picture? This is beyond outrageous. If the Navy needs to reduce someone in rank, how about the incompetent prosecutor. Please ask our president to restore the Chief rank to Chief Gallagher.