On April 4th, 2003, Marine Colonel Joe D. Dowdy walked into the tent of his superior, Major General James Mattis. The tension had been brewing throughout the early invasion as General Mattis favored speed and violence, whereas Colonel Dowdy took great concern for the welfare of his Marines and that caution ultimately cost him his command. General Mattis relieved Colonel Dowdy during the middle of an invasion and in Dowdy’s own words, “I’d rather have taken an enemy bullet.” To lose one’s command is a gut punch that any commissioned officer prays they will never experience. To lose one’s career and endure legal punishment on top of a fate that many officers consider worse than death is a damn Greek tragedy.
Naval Officers Are Getting Canned At The Cyclic Rate
Bilecki Law Group attorney Ben Gold was recently interviewed by NBC News regarding a recent spate of Naval Officers being fired from their commands. To their surprise, Gold wasn’t surprised in the least to hear this news. Ben served in the Navy and clarified that “command at sea is kind of like an experiment in leadership.” NBC News – Navy Fired a Dozen Leaders
On average, 17 Naval officers are relieved each year and yet, so far in 2022 the count is at 13 with 5 coming in one week. Now, as was the case with Colonel Dowdy in Iraq, relieving officers of their command is a thing in the military and not one that offers much room for contestation. A simple loss of confidence is the only prerequisite.
However, whereas the mainstream media enjoys highlighting the sexy relief of command, what they don’t bother to tell you is how many of these officer’s lives are ruined on the backend. We wish it were as simple as losing command of your Submarine, so you then ride out the rest of your career in logistics. Unfortunately for many officers, it’s lose your command followed by an arbitrary and capricious court martial to make your superiors feel justified about their decision and the end of what was once a promising career.
Fighting For Your Career Is Not Conduct Unbecoming An Officer
Namesake and founder Tim Bilecki served as a commissioned officer in the U.S. Army JAG Corps. He had a front row seat to the military justice system and he’ll be the first to tell you that it is heavily weighted, if not outright rigged, in favor of the prosecution. For an officer, this almost works in your favor as you strive to uphold military discipline and order.
For example, a young Marine Lance Corporal shows up drunk to formation and the girl he snuck into the barracks comes out screaming about a lack of payment while holding what’s left of the bag of cocaine they shared. An officer is rarely sad about a weighted process that removes said Marine and whose punishment scares the rest of the Marines so much that they won’t so much as talk to a girl in knee high stockings if she’s holding a bag of sugar.
Unfortunately, what many officers don’t understand is that once the military justice system sets its sights on them, the military justice system couldn’t care less about the shiny brass on your shoulder. It will do what it does to those junior enlisted personnel and if you don’t fight back, it will ruin you. We’ve said it to the enlisted and we’ll say it to the officers, you can’t coexist with a military justice system that is out to destroy you.
Removing A Commander is Reasonable But Destroying Their Life Is Unreasonable
Reasonable people can disagree on whether General Mattis should have relieved Colonel Dowdy during the middle of war. However, that a General would lose confidence in a senior leader is not an unreasonable scenario. So, if you are a Submarine commander and you surface underneath a foreign fishing vessel or perhaps run into a well charted undersea mountain, you are going to get canned. This is the risk and burden of leadership.
However, let us imagine that after relieving Colonel Dowdy, that Mattis then took Dowdy’s retirement away from his family after 24 years of service. That seems a bit harsh for a difference of opinion on operational tempo. Now let’s imagine a promising young Naval officer who is given command of a vessel early in his career and due to the behavior of two enlisted personnel that made the news, he is removed from command and booted out of the Navy.
It’s not the relief of command that we have a major problem with. Though, we would point out that firing officers takes place with little consistency and what gets an officer praised in one chain of command will get him fired in another. It’s what comes next that is so damning and life altering. Everyone likes to think of officers as they grizzled old men smoking a cigar and staring at a map. In reality, many of these officers are just kids. Kids in their mid to late 20’s who are going to make the same mistakes as anyone else in their mid to late 20’s. If they are not cut out to be in command of a particular unit, fine. We should have high expectations, but damn it, we don’t need to destroy their lives for giving it a go.
Bilecki Fights For Officers And Enlisted Against Misuse And Abuse Of The UCMJ
The reality is that the many of the clients we defend are enlisted personnel, but we’ve done plenty of hard hitting defense for the sake of officers as well. Now, if you are an officer who’s been on the stand testifying against one of our enlisted clients, let us now apologize for tearing you a new one in a public and spectacular manner. Perhaps what we did to you on the stand is why you lost your command in the first place.
We spare no expense and leave no weapons on the table when it comes to the defense of our clients. That’s because we realize that be you officer or enlisted, if the military justice system is coming for you that it intends to destroy you. As officers, you understand that the military justice system does not exist for the pursuit of justice. The UCMJ is a tool given to you as commanders to uphold the highest standards and maintain the necessary order and discipline.
The only problem is that just like a chemical or biological agent that is unleashed, it doesn’t care who it kills and certainly can’t tell the difference between enlisted or officer. In the NBC interview, Ben Gold clarified that as a commanding officer, “you’re under the microscope and as you get higher up in the ranks, the microscope intensifies.”
This means if you are looking to advance as an officer throughout your military career, you understand that you are going to be held to an extremely high standard. That’s all fair game and part of what makes our military great. What you didn’t expect is to have your career cut short, be run out of the military, and face damaging legal consequences for doing your best. That’s why you have to have a staunch court martial defense at the ready when you play the game that is command.
Losing Command Shouldn’t Be The End Of Your Career
Some Lance Corporal may very well be the end of your time in a particular command and that is acceptable. However, Lance Corporal Smuckatelli does not get to take your livelihood, end your career, and rob you of your retirement because he smuggled some grenades up his rectum and tried to sell them on social media. You’re going to get dismissed if it hits the news and you’re going to get dismissed if you order battalion wide rectum inspections after every field exercise.
Look, we know you love the military and that’s why you became an officer. It seems counter-intuitive to fight the very institution you hold dear, but ladies and gentlemen, you have no choice. We are not sure why 13 Naval officers have been relieved halfway through the year, but we know that at least some of them are about to have their lives destroyed. Don’t let that happen to you.
If you think your command might get yanked from you, then you need to get ready for the fight that comes next. Reach out to us and we’ll shoot you straight on exactly what you are facing. We may not be able to save your command, but we can save your career and the rest of your life from the damning consequences. Don’t take this laying down, you’re an officer. Lead the fight for the rest of your career and you will come out on top.