I was an Initial Entry Training battalion chaplain, 10 years ago. One day a private came up to me and told me one of his drill sergeants slapped him on his helmet. Some would consider that abuse, some might say it was just tough training. My first thought was, “There goes his career.” I was inclined to believe it happened just as the Soldier said - knowing this particular DS was one of the toughest and most demanding in the battalion. But I also knew another side to this DS. He had a wife and several young children. He wasn’t hateful. I had an ethical dilemma. What needed to happen so this wouldn’t happen again and both parties involved would come out better for it?
I could have told the Soldier to just accept it and drive on. But if I blew the Soldier off, he probably would never seek or heed the counsel of a chaplain again, or for that matter, any other authority in the Army. He could just as well try to fix things on his own. Worse yet, he may have felt cornered and helpless to do anything. People sometimes act out of desperation when they see no clear way through their predicament. This being Suicide Prevention and Awareness Month, it gives us pause to focus on one of the key contributors to suicide – a sense of helplessness. This Soldier came for help, which is a good thing.
On the other hand, if I counseled the Soldier to make a formal complaint there would be an investigation. The risk to his career was high. Until this event, no Soldier had accused him of abuse. Let me say abuse should never be tolerated. It is diametrically opposed to our values. However tough, realistic training does not imply abuse. On the contrary, it helped those new Soldiers gain the stamina and confidence they would later need while deployed. It was a judgment call that needed to be made and I didn’t like either choice.
I decided to take a risk and threw it back to the Soldier, “What would you like to see happen?” He could have said, “I want to make an IG complaint” or “I want to talk to the commander.” Instead he replied, “I just want DS Slapper (not his real name) to get off my case.” I thought that can surely happen. I met with DS Slapper and told him what his Soldier told me and that he had a valid IG complaint but, at this time, he wasn’t going to pursue it. DS Slapper knew he was in a gray area. I told him this may be a good thing. The Soldier just wanted a break. Consider it a wake-up call to reel in the overly aggressive tactics. He remained one of the toughest, most demanding, yet most respected DSs in the battalion, but he never got physical with a Soldier again. I share this with you because the gray areas we often face demand some kind of action. I believe it is prudent to keep a couple of things in mind when deciding what to do. First it helped me to put myself in the shoes of both the Soldier and the DS. What would I have wanted to happen if it was me? Jesus said, “Do to others what you would have them do to you.” Second, the Army teaches us to solve problems at the lowest level possible. I think this accords with another of Jesus’ sayings, “If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you.” Go direct to the person, not to others.
When disagreements happen or we are treated unkindly the temptation is to go for the quickest, most self-satisfying solution. It rarely turns out that way though. Yet, if we take a breath and consider the words above, we may well arrive at a win-win situation.