I would like to thank Randall Leonard for his May 28 commentary, "Punishing honesty at the Naval Academy." Ethics is a subject not to be taken lightly, especially for those who hold coalition, enemy, and civilian lives in the balance. There is, however, a big difference between a mistake and a crime.
Per Webster's II New Riverside University Dictionary, as a noun a mistake is "1. An error: fault. 2. A misconception: misunderstanding." The same defines a crime as "1. An act committed or omitted in violation of law forbidding or commanding it and for which punishment is imposed upon conviction. 2. Unlawful activity. 3. A serious moral offense." Military leaders both bear the responsibility to educate subordinates so that they can discern between the two, as well as the responsibility to punish appropriately when either has occurred.
In the case presented by Mr. Leonard, where midshipmen are being questioned about illegal drug use while serving after having taken an oath, I posit that there is little room for discussion. Illegal drug use is a crime, and the perpetrator is subject to prosecution as seen fit by the institution and, ultimately, the law. If a midshipman lies during questioning, he or she may emerge unscathed, although it proves that he or she is not a person of integrity (by two accounts), and therefore neither fit for duty nor to be accepted within the officer ranks. As reminded by the Naval Academy Honor Concept, "Midshipmen are persons of integrity; they stand for that which is right." Officers without integrity are simply not tolerated in the ranks, nor should they be.
Luckily, Mr. Leonard's commentary centers on the extreme fringes of the Naval Academy's midshipman population and not on the norm. The fact of the matter is that some infractions are intolerable and must be dealt with in a manner that denies reconciliation. Mr. Leonard's point is well presented, but it is misaligned with an institution that demands excellence. These young officers-to-be, standing on the foundation of what they have learned at Annapolis, maintain a level of excellence which demands that those among us who commit criminal acts be held accountable for their actions and, if warranted, relieved from duty.
John C. Walker
The writer is a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Air Force.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun