Joint Chiefs, for all their power, come up clueless against senators


An impressive array of somber and sober men in uniform faced a brace of angry U.S. senators Tuesday on Capital Hill and for all their power, the generals and admirals had no defense. The military’s sexual abuse crisis only deepened.

Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-NY and Claire C. McCaskill, D-MO, were incredulous about the military’s poor handling of sexual abuse attacks in the services — 26,000 in 2012 alone.

McCaskill, a former prosecutor, was particularly incensed about the case of USAF Lt. Col. James Wilkerson, who was accused of assaulting a house guest. He was convicted, but his commanding officer, as is his right under military guidelines, dismissed the decision.

“It was astoundingly ignorant,” McCaskill admonished the lineup of men in medals. “He opened it [his reversal decision] that ‘she didn’t get a ride home when she had the chance.’ Are ya’ frickin’ kidding me?”

Clearly, the men in green and blue were shaken by the senators’ anger. They fight with guns and bombs and drones and are not used to listening to anyone rip into their job performance and have to “take it.”

To handle a crisis effectively, it helps to realize and accept that you’re in one. You can’t win a battle until you understand its nature and the strategy and tactics needed to fight and win. Unfortunately, most of the Joint Chiefs seemed to be in denial, wishing they could all just mount up in their black Escalades and go back to the Pentagon. Thus will the crisis continue.

Admitted Joint Chiefs Chairman, Gen. Martin Dempsey about the military’s lax handling of this crisis:

“I’ll speak for myself, I took my eye off the ball on that.”

The hearing was on a bill Gillibrand proposed that would place sexual assault cases in the hands of military attorneys, circumventing the “chain of command.” Several other senators did not think that is a good idea.

Gillibrand argued that victims are presently afraid to come forward, fearing retaliation and professional standing. She told the Joint Chiefs they’ve lost the trust of their charges.

Reported The New York Times:

Senators from both parties pressed the leaders, at times using strong language, about why, decades after the full integration of women into the military, the problem seems to have worsened. Senator John McCain, an Arizona Republican, recalled meeting with a woman whose daughter was considering entering the military if Mr. McCain, a former naval aviator, could offer his “unqualified support” of the choice. “I could not,” he said.

The dissatisfaction with the Joint Chiefs — who, despite their title, seldom all gather in one room publicly — crossed party lines, demonstrating the depth of the senators’ ire, as the Times noted:

Senator Roy Blunt sat silently for nearly an hour as his colleagues on the Armed Services Committee questioned one military leader after another on Tuesday about what they were doing to address the problem of sexual assault in the military, and then assessed their responses: “Stunningly bad.”

In particular, Mr. Blunt chided Adm. Jonathan W. Greenert, the chief of naval operations, for displaying scant knowledge of how military allies of the United States had dealt with sexual assault in their ranks, and for thanking Senator Jeanne Shaheen, Democrat of New Hampshire, for “the tip” that other countries had grappled with the issue.

“Has anybody who works for you been asking this?” Mr. Blunt, Republican of Missouri, asked with clear exasperation.

The content of this blog is about crisis management and mismanagement in a digital age. It originates with Steve Bell, who spent 30 years as a journalist for the Associated Press and in four top editor positions at The Buffalo News. He is now Partner/Director of Public Affairs at Eric Mower + Associates, one of the nation’s largest independent advertising, integrated marketing and public relations agencies, with seven offices in the Northeast and Southeast. Learn more about EMA at http://www.mower.com. Steve’s blog is based on his own opinions and does not represent the views or positions of Eric Mower + Associates.

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About steveoncrisis

The content is about crisis management and mismanagement in a digital age. It comes from Steve Bell, who spent 30 years as a journalist for the Associated Press and as managing editor and editorial page editor at The Buffalo News. He is now Partner/Director of Public Affairs at Eric Mower and Associates, one of the nation's largest independent advertising, integrated marketing and public relations agency with six offices in the Northeast and Southeast.
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