The author is an former infantryman and Iraq war veteran.
Say hello to the U.S. Army's self-styled aristocrat, General William "Kip" Ward. Ward was head of the U.S. military's Africa Command and recently demoted by Defense Secretary Leon Panetta from a 4-star General to a 3-star General and allowed to retire after an investigation into lavish personal spending and travel on taxpayer money.
A November 13, 2012 article in Stars & Stripes details the story: "The inspector general's report found that Ward used military vehicles to shuttle his wife on shopping trips and to a spa and billed the government for a refueling stop overnight in Bermuda, where the couple stayed in a $750 suite. The report detailed lengthy stays at lavish hotels for Ward, his wife and his staff members, and the use of five-vehicle motorcades when he traveled to Washington. Ward and his wife, Joyce, accepted dinner and Broadway show tickets from a government contractor during a trip during which he went backstage to meet actor Denzel Washington. Other charges were that Ward often extended his overseas trips—particularly those to the U.S.—for personal reasons, resulting in "exponential increases in costs."
Senior military leadership loyally works (with lavish perks) for the same greedy, self-entitled ruling class that lets criminal Wall Street bankers off with a slap on the wrist—the same ruling class that incarcerates the working class in our for-profit prison system at a rate higher than any other nation in the world. As a four-star general on active duty, Ward made almost twice as much money each month ($19,239.90) as a person living at the poverty line ($11,170) makes in an entire year. 46.2 million people in America live below the poverty line (U.S. Dept. of Health & Human Svcs./U.S. Census Bureau).
Stars & Stripes said, "Retiring as a three-star will cost Ward about $30,000 a year in retirement pay—giving him close to $208,802 a year rather than the $236,650 he would get as a four-star." Even at his "punitive" rate of $208,802, Ward will make as much yearly as 18.6 people living on the poverty line without having to lift a finger, or perhaps he'll move on to a job with one of the defense contractors he accepted gifts from (again, not having to lift a finger). The article goes on to say that "Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, urged (Defense Secretary) Panetta to allow Ward, the former head of U.S. Africa Command, to retire at his full four-star general rank, according to defense officials. Other military leaders had noted that the demotion would cost Ward a lot of money."
What a clear picture they paint of where their values and alliances lie; with other members of this taxpayer-funded good ol' boys' club, and with amassing wealth. Officers advance their careers on the backs of and at the expense of enlisted soldiers. The U.S. Army Commissioned Officer's Creed states that, "In justifying and fulfilling the trust placed in me, I will conduct my private life as well as my public service so as to be free both from impropriety and the appearance of impropriety, acting with candor and integrity...and employing my rank and position not to serve myself but to serve my country and my unit."
In the Uniform Code of Military Justice, Article 133: "Conduct Unbecoming an Officer and a Gentleman" establishes that “Any commissioned officer ... who is convicted of conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman shall be punished as a court-martial may direct...There are certain moral attributes common to the ideal officer and the perfect gentleman, a lack of which is indicated by acts of dishonesty, unfair dealing, indecency, indecorum, lawlessness, injustice, or cruelty."
Beginning on page 34 of the Inspector General's report dated June 26, 2012 is a list of dozens of violations committed by General Ward. The report states, "We conclude GEN Ward engaged in multiple forms of misconduct related to official and unofficial travel ... He misused his position and his subordinates' time, government funds and rental vehicles ... Finally, he accepted gifts from a prohibited source."
Contrast this with the lives of enlisted soldiers, who struggle daily in a toxic environment of rape, sexism, racism, harassment, bullying, and retaliation in a system that uses them up and spits them out, completely dishonoring their sacrifice and their service. Frequently enough, they're left to contemplate going AWOL or taking their own lives as the only escape from the morally-corrupt prison that Army life is for many. Soldiers with PTSD or victims of Military Sexual Trauma are more likely to be kicked out of the Army with a bad conduct or other-than-honorable discharge, having committed no crime at all yet being punished, denying them the few benefits they would have access to; VA medical care and the G.I. Bill. This essentially sets them up for failure, or leaves them to later petition the government to have their discharge upgraded while their well-being hangs in the balance. Meanwhile, senior officers get rich on our money and slap each other on the back, enjoying the perks and privileges they've given themselves, insulated from the reality of service in the very organization they're tasked with leading.
It's plain to see that neither General Ward's criminal decision to shamelessly live like a king on our dollar, nor the decision to ignore his misconduct and plead for mercy by his profligate cohorts fall in line with the standards the United States Army has established for its own commissioned officers. Given this blatant hypocrisy, why should General Ward be allowed to retire and collect a pension when an average soldier would not be extended this unethical opportunity? Clearly, General Ward's intentionally dishonest actions violate Article 133 of the UCMJ, and he should be summarily court-martialed and discharged without his benefits, just as an enlisted soldier would, despite his rank, his influence, his wealth, or anything else that would lead the Department of Defense to believe that he is not subject to the same laws or responsibilities as any other soldier. This two-tiered justice system shows how much the lives of enlisted personnel matter to the officer corps.
While Gen. Ward is no-doubt not unique as an officer who takes illegal kick-backs, all of the Pentagon generals engage in legal methods of doing the same thing by taking six-figure salaries the day they retire from the energy companies and defense contractors whose interests they represented while in uniform—not to mention plenty of lavish kick-backs while they’re still in the military, signing-off their billion-dollar contracts. Are we really expected to believe that they’re making their military decisions in the best interests of service members and our families? That is why it is important for GIs to know that if they don’t want their lives in the hands of officers like Gen. Ward, they have options.