SHOUTING FIRE ON FACEBOOK
Pendleton Marine Sgt. Gary Stein doesn't like our president. That's not unusual in today's military. Had our country voted the way our soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines did; McCain would be doing the worrying about Iran and its bomb today. I, on the other hand, think Obama is just what the country needs.
Despite our differences -- age, politics, branch of service -- Sgt. Stein and I have something in common. We both take strong, often unpopular, stands on things we think important. Then we defend our position with the tenacity of a bulldog.
For more than two decades I did that as a freelance columnist for Navy Times. After a Navy career spanning nearly twenty-three years as an enlisted man and junior officer. I loved having the opportunity to finally be able tell the world how things ought to be done.
Some didn't wait for retirement, but managed to stay circumspect enough the military didn't respond. Ward Reeves, was the pseudonym for a Navy senior chief who also contributed articles for the Times. Reeves was a firebrand who, when he felt it necessary, excoriated the president, the CNO, and almost everybody who attended the infamous 1991 "Tail Hook" convention in Las Vegas. He was breaking the rules but had the sense to be incognito.
The senior chief and I shared so many sentiments that when I went to the annual reunion of the Naval Cryptologic Veterans Association, one of my old shipmates accused me of being Ward Reeves.
On his retirement, our columns ran side by side. His column was his swan song, a poignant piece telling of his love for the Navy. Mine bore the headline "I'm not Ward Reeves, but I wish I were." I never met the man for whom I was confused, and I consider that my loss. I haven't heard from him in years, but I betcha he's raising hell.
But ya gotta be circumspect. A few years after that, an active duty Marine Corps major, a mustang writing under his own name, took off on President Clinton and earned himself a letter of reprimand. I'm guessing he never made lieutenant colonel.
Writing is a heady experience, but if you're not careful it can be trouble, a ton of it. The military has a hard and fast rule that publicly criticizing those above oneself in the chain of command is forbidden. Sgt Stein would not have called his commanding officer a jackass.
But he considered the president fair game. He started a Facebook page entitled Armed Forces Tea Party. Like those tea party folks we saw on TV wearing tea bags from their hats and carrying signs urging the defeat of Obama, he pulled no punches. Twenty-six thousand, the equivalent of several regiments, joined him. Soon his messages started flying around the world at the speed of light.
A picture on the site depicted the president as a jackass. Another screamed PRESIDENT LIES! Mention was made of refusing to follow the president's orders. It was later amended to read lawful orders. Invectives flew, and Stein's Facebook pages give the impression of a united group marching in opposition to the president and his policies.
Most those who identified themselves were members of the armed forces. The equivalent of three regiments waiting for a barracks lawyer to determine the nuance of lawful before attacking, might be considered a clear and present danger.
The sergeant has started something huge, and the repercussions can be enormous. Then there's that thing about unit cohesion and discipline. That's practically gospel talk to the Marines, especially those who have to decide Stein's fate.
Meanwhile he sergeant isn't backing off. Nor is the corps. Stein has been read his rights. His CO has recommended he be given a discharge.
He's still at it, defying the Corps and the President.
I asked an Internet friend and retired Navy captain what she thought about all this. She wrote: "I agree with the actions the Marine Corps is taking. It is time for him to become Mr. Stein if he wants to be known for his political views."
Or, maybe Representative Stein? He lives in and is stationed in California's 49th district now representated by Darrell Issa. It is considered one of the most politically conservative and anti Obama districts in the country. The day after the sergeant was given his rights and urged to stop, he was invited to give a talk to a meeting of Tea Party members in Bonsall, also within the 49th.
With all the support Stein is getting from the tea party folks, he might decide to go into politics. But, even in north San Diego county, it's a long shot and I hope Sgt. Stein doesn't take it. The corps needs people with spunk, but not if it directly confronts the Commander in Chief. I too believe in unit cohesion.