When Generals Behave Badly


Every time someone in uniform is accused of committing a crime, there is a bit of a freak out around here. We keep asking each other why are we so surprised to find a servicemember accused of creating child pornography? Raping a local? Faking their own death?

After all, the military is a “microcosm of society,” right? Surely we should expect the same problems with people in the military population that we have with the civilian population. So why don’t we?

When the sordid case against Army Brigadier General Jeffrey Sinclair reported in the Fayetteville Observer came up this week, I got to thinking about it again.

The general is accused of alleged sexual misconduct with four subordinate officers and one civilian. The 26 charges against Sinclair include forcible sodomy, wrongful sexual conduct and engaging in inappropriate relationships.

An Army captain who was Sinclair’s aide testified that she had an affair over a three year period with her boss but that it ended badly:

On two occasions, she testified the general ended such conversations by exposing himself and physically forcing her to perform oral sex. When a prosecutor asked if Sinclair should have been able to tell that she did not want to participate, the captain responded: “Yes, I was crying.”

Which is exactly why I think that criminal accusations against those in uniform prick at our consciousness in an especially disturbing way. Dave Grossman, former Army Ranger and author of On Killing, noted that our society is mostly populated by sheep.

I don’t think he means that in a bad way. I think he means that most of us are nice people who just want to care for our young. We wouldn’t hurt anyone except by accident.

Then there are wolves. These are people who have no compunction against bringing violence against the sheep. Grossman says that wolves feed on the sheep without mercy.

Then there are sheepdogs. Grossman says they live to protect the flock and confront the wolf. Our servicemembers are meant to be sheepdogs — just like police officers and CIA guys and DEA dudes and Secret Service members and firefighters and everyone else who takes up arms to defend the rest of us.

We rely on these sheepdogs to protect us from wolves. We trust them. We count on them. We think we can identify sheepdogs from the uniforms they wear.

It is when they show us by their actions that they are not sheepdogs, but wolves in sheepdog clothing, that we are shocked. Appalled. Disgusted. Afraid.

Of course those stories draw our attention. What were the signs? How could this be prevented? What do we do now?

We bring the wolves to trial, of course. We hold people accountable for their actions even during war. It’s a sheep response to wolf behavior.

We must be ready to react when we find wolves among us in the Army, Navy, Coast Guard, Air Force and Marine Corps. They will look like us.  They will not be us. A wolf is identified by his or her behavior. And so is the sheepdog.

About the Author

Jacey Eckhart
Jacey Eckhart is the former Director of Spouse and Family Programs for Military.com. Since 1996, Eckhart’s take on military families has been featured in her syndicated column, her book The Homefront Club, and her award winning CDs These Boots and I Married a Spartan?? Most recently she has been featured as a military family subject matter expert on NBC Dateline, CBS morning news, CNN, NPR and the New York Times. Eckhart is an Air Force brat, a Navy wife and an Army mom. Find her at JaceyEckhart.net.
  • Chris

    Perhaps, all politicians and Flag Officers need to undergo periodic mental evaluations.

  • Heidi

    Nicely written. It is always a shocker to find someone who not only should know better, but who is in a high leadership position, and who most likely during at least one point in his career order others to undergo sexual harassment training, be so careless and reckless with his career and the lives of others.

  • Anonymous Sheepdog

    Exceptionally well written and also highlights why these type of events draw so much attention because they are unmasking the wolves. Great take on this sad situation!

  • What is it?….Power corrupts absolutely! We see it every time with leaders in position of great power. You think there would be some training in recognizing this feeling and what to do about it. I think what bothers the rest of us the most is not the why that happened but that what….as in punishment and being responsible for those actions….waiting to see what happens to the other two generals we are still waiting a verdict on, one who I knew personally!

    • jacey_eckhart

      I agree that in the command structure there needs to be some kind of emotional training in which they get taught how to recognize things are getting out of control. There should also be some training about the emptiness of command and how you can get that ‘is this all?’ feeling.