The Army is currently experiencing an explosion of misconduct-based disciplinary actions and discharges it has not seen since the 1990s. While officials insist that the spiking discharges are a result of tougher enforcement of Army standards, many others suspect that mass exodus of soldiers is actually peacetime downsizing in disguise-- and that it's unfairly characterizing countless accused service members.
As The Gazette reports, between 2012 and 2013, the Army has discharged 24,611 soldiers for discipline-related issues. Perhaps even more telling: from 2010 to 2014, 57,835 soldiers left the Army and—during that same period—57,060 were discharged due to misconduct violations. Army spokespeople assert that the nearly identical numbers are a mere coincidence.
To some former insiders though, the rash of misconduct actions—both criminal and administrative—is the Army's current tactic to downsize during peacetime. As The Gazette notes, the Army is in the middle of a five-year downsizing effort, part of which includes the Pentagon cutting $50 billion from the Army's budget every year. In response, many have concluded that the Army has turned to whittling down its personnel as a way to quickly reduce spending.
DAMAGING REPUTATIONS & DENYING BENEFITS
While downsizing may be a reality for the Army, insisting that soldiers have misbehaved because of small infractions and misunderstandings is not good for morale. Take the case of retired Army Capt. Donald Hamilton: Hamilton—who claims to have been issued "memorandum after memorandum" about misconduct enforcement—found himself the target of disciplinary action when the Army accused him of stealing $500. He had signed for $500 for BBQ supplies for his men, but when rain delayed the event, officials assumed Hamilton had pocketed the cash. Eventually, Hamilton fought successfully to clear his name in an Article 15 hearing.
If he hadn't, he may have faced a "general discharge," the most common discharge being issued right now. While general discharge allows for Veteran's benefits, many other key benefits become unavailable and a general discharge itself carries with it a stigma of prior misconduct. Commanders are advised to counsel soldiers for "substantial prejudice in civilian life" following a general discharge, but it's unclear in The Gazette's report if that counseling is actually happening.
As far as the Army is concerned, the enforcement of certain standards is long overdue. According to a four-star general that spoke to the paper, misconduct is begrudgingly tolerated by commanders during wartime so that infantry numbers stay robust. As soon as combat ends, however, many soldiers who may be fit for fighting do not exemplify the high moral and ethical standard the Army strives to personify. "Commanders are finally tired of the crap," the general says.
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