One of the most overlooked professions in this country is that of being a member of the Armed Forces. Whether you’re Army, Air Force, Navy, Marines, Coast Guard or a Reservist (yes, the way they are used today, they deserve to be noted also), the work that these men and women do goes literally above and beyond the call of duty. Not only do they perform these jobs – often without much recognition – but they will also give up a tremendous amount to be able to wear the uniform of a United States military member.
A couple of stories recently in the news encapsulates these points very well. While it is not officially recognized as a part of the military, The Citadel has the highest percentage of any U. S. college student body that has gone on to serve in the military; to be exact, all but 46 of their living graduates have been or are members of the Armed Forces (perhaps because every student is a member of ROTC, which eases the transition into the military’s officer programs). Thus, their rules are pretty much in line with that of the Armed Forces itself in the conduct and dress of cadets.
According to recent reports, a prospective student recently accepted to The Citadel has challenged the college, requesting to wear a hijab – the traditional headscarf that Muslim women are required to wear – and to have thorough coverage of her arms and legs per the religious dictates of Islam. The Citadel, however, denied that request, citing that the dress code that is dictated to the cadets emphasize the uniformity of a military organization. “The Citadel has relied upon a highly effective educational model requiring all cadets to adopt a common uniform. Uniformity is the cornerstone of this four-year leader development model,” the Commandant of The Citadel, Lt. General John W. Rosa, said in a statement that was released by USA Today. “This process reflects an initial relinquishing of self during which cadets learn the value of teamwork to function as a single unit.”
Now it has to be noted that The Citadel does have three Muslim members in attendance at the university, so it isn’t like they haven’t dealt with this situation previously. In addition, The Citadel – as do all of the military academic academies – do make accommodations for particular religious diets and services. As of now, the student has decided not to enroll at The Citadel, but her family is considering legal action against the public institution.
On another military-related front, a group of black female cadets from West Point, the Army’s academy, will not be reprimanded for posing for a photograph on the West Point grounds. While wearing their cadet dress uniforms, the women posed on the stairs of their barracks with their fists in the air – the “Black Power” salute – which drew the outrage of some when it somehow found its way into the media. After an investigation, the U. S. Department of Defense decided that the cadets didn’t break any rules with their actions and, as such, no reprimands or punishments would be issued.
For those that aren’t a part of the military (or have never been), there are several huge differences between military life and civilian life. To be honest, there are some that function better under the guidance of the military lifestyle than they would in the civilian world. But there is one thing that is undoubtedly true…when you’re in the military, you do not have the rights that you would have in the civilian world.
As a veteran of the United States Marine Corps, I saw on a regular basis how rights that you have come to expect – nay, are granted – in the civilian life DO NOT EXIST once you don the uniform to defend your country.
Freedom of speech? As a member of the military, you do not have the ability to discuss any situation, whether in support or opposition to the President of the United States or the government, otherwise you can face a court martial for violating the Uniform Code of Military Justice. This is something that was seen a few years ago in something that, personally for me, was quite annoying.
Over Facebook a few years ago, there was a rash of supposed “military members” (I say supposed because there were several of these photos that looked photoshopped) who would post pictures of themselves with quotations about their opposition to service in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan or potentially being sent to another conflict in the Middle East. These quotations, normally written on a piece of paper, were then held strategically to block the “military member’s” face so that they would not face punishment for what they were doing (if you had any cojones, you’d stand behind your words, show your face and give your name). The movement died off fairly quickly, however, for reasons unknown.
Political freedom? While in uniform, a military member cannot support any political activity, much in line with being unable to have freedom of speech. In 2012, an Army Reservist was reprimanded by his superiors for speaking at a Ron Paul for President rally, then going on to do a live interview with CNN regarding his position on the wars in the Middle East.
When it comes to religious freedoms, the military begrudgingly breaks on that front. They will allow for special meals, even for Shabbos (the Jewish Sabbath, which usually entails that the practitioner abstain from working, electronic activities and other non-restful activities) or, in extreme cases, some clothing (The Citadel does note a cadet was allowed to wear long pants during physical training “about eight years ago” in a break with their normal attire). They also will provide adequately trained religious leaders – priests, rabbis, etc. – to conduct services for their servicemen and women.
Double jeopardy? In the civilian world, that exists. In the military, you can be punished on many occasions for the same offense. I saw many a fellow Marine who, after committing some offense out in the town, be subjected to the military’s form of justice under the UCMJ. Even if the civilian case was eventually dismissed for one reason or another, the military was never wrong and their punishment always stood.
Basically, if you enter the military, you are owned by the federal government. They have the right to tell you where to go, when to do it, how to do it and what will happen to you if you don’t do it that particular way. They also can tell you what to do in your daily life, whether you are on the base or living off base…their rules are final and unyielding.
In the case of The Citadel, they did the right thing. While making accommodations for religious reasons isn’t out of the question, there is an importance to having all members conform to the same regulations and be judged by the same rules. If someone is allowed a different form of clothing – regardless if it for a religious reason or not – then they are not being held to the same standards as another cadet. As such, I believe The Citadel is right.
I do believe that the commanders at West Point got it wrong, though. Although one of the superintendents at the Army’s academy stated the cadets would “receive some instruction,” part of the reason they are at West Point is to learn how to conduct themselves as an officer in the United States Army. Doing things such as the “Black Power” salute – which is perfectly allowable if you’re a civilian – while wearing your cadet uniform IS a violation of the UCMJ. A reprimand was completely in line…expulsion, as some suggested? No, nowhere close to being an offense worthy of being tossed from school.
We hear a great deal of talk about freedoms in the United States and it is important to think about them carefully. Those that defend those freedoms – the men and women of the United States Armed Forces – don’t have the same voice that we civilians do. You learn to appreciate that when you’ve been in the military previously.