Talking to Each Other for Military Justice

There is a reason that the Equal Opportunity and Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) processes *encourage* resolution at the lowest level. Many issues arise from a failure to communicate or from misunderstanding. A simple, “hey, what did you mean by that?” goes a long way. Or at least it could. And from my perspective, it should.

I do understand from a policy perspective why EO and other military complaint processes do not require communication between the would be-offender and the person who has been offended. Especially in the military context when rank and position factor greatly into a person’s perspective about retaliation and power. But what about requiring someone of equal or greater rank to communicate with the would-be offender about their intent? Why not use a supervisor to act as an intermediary?

I just concluded a board of inquiry (BOI) [administrative firing for military officers] where an E-4 had been offended or at least was apparently concerned by messages sent by an O-5 over a texting application during an exercise. Rather than asking for clarification, an investigation ensued. O-5 receives derogatory findings. O-5 receives general officer memorandum of reprimand (GOMOR). O-5 faces elimination (firing and loss of 18 years of service) at a board of inquiry. Thankfully, the board concluded he had not in fact committed conduct unbecoming an officer and that the GOMOR’s filing did not warrant his elimination.

Now the O-5 must go through the process of applying to remove the GOMOR from his official record or else he faces demotion to O-4 at retirement under a grade determination review.

Not even focusing for a moment on the processes the O-5 was made to suffer through for the last nine months(which for many is actually a short amount of time), this E-4 has been under the belief that the O-5 intended something untoward or was committing sexual harassment. It caused her to feel less than enthusiastic about getting up each day in service to our nation. In the words of my client, “she should not have had to feel that way.”

In the restorative justice model, my client and the E-4 could have had a face-to-face encounter with an intermediary and advocates for the E-4. My client would have known how he had made her feel, he could have apologized and validated her feelings, acknowledging his poor word choice but ensuring he never intended to harass her. And he could have had an opportunity to course correct but explain what he had intended to communicate. Client would have gladly received counseling from his superiors for being cautious in how he communicates. And life would have resumed for both parties.

Yes, there are times when something is on its face so inappropriate as to not have a need for explanation (genitalia pics come to mind…).

And yes, there are power dynamics. Yes, there are considerations when there is disparity in rank.

But when we retreat to make feelings the only concrete truth (that my client, for example, had a nefarious intent), we are feeding a system that denies humanity. People are people, and we all make mistakes. We are not perfect communicators, and when something comes across as questionable, we need to encourage communication. We need to talk to each other.

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