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These Officers and Leaders Will Regret This Picture 20 Years From Now

A-group-of-female-black-West-Point-cadets-with-their-fists-raised

Take off those uniforms and all you get are a bunch of silly college kids.  Put them back on and you get the future leaders who will send men and women of all races into combat.  As a former enlisted Marine, I would personally preference the ladies in that picture go ahead and make up their minds about which one they want to be.  I’m cool with either, it’s a free society but a choice must be made.  And in an age where “lives matter” has become a descriptive norm, let me just suggest to these ladies that if “enlisted lives matter” perhaps you embrace your role as an officer before all.  The best officer I ever personally knew was an African American Naval Academy male and the best enlisted man I knew was our Caucasian Platoon Sergeant given the unfortunate task of leading our platoon of misfits in Iraq.  But leadership matters and I will forever be indebted to them both for that.  They sent us into harm’s way, but they were first and foremost Officers and Staff NCO’s of the highest order above all.  Other platoons and units were not so lucky, but I’ll never doubt for a second my life mattered to those men.

Wisdom Comes with Age

I can remember in my unit that a Marine who joined a decent amount of time after me reached the rank of Sergeant while I was still a Corporal.  Part of me kicked the dust, but even then I knew this Grandpa of a man, aged 29 or so, had a season of life or two over me that translated well into leadership over my 21-year-old self.  Certainly that is not always the case, but 37-year-old me often reminisces and wants to kick 21-year-old me in the sack.

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So to the ladies who are likely in your early 20’s, despite your Academy Education and your future status as Military Officers I can give you a graceful pass on why this was just a stupid idea.  Honestly, as a young enlisted Marine I’m quite confident I did stupid stuff in Uniform because it seemed funny at the time.

However, I’ll tell you as an older grizzled vet that you will never be prouder of your uniform than the season of life when it no longer fits and you realize the value more than ever.  And all you will have to hang on to is that you wore and represented it well.  You are all highly educated women and I don’t think you missed the racial context of the picture and symbol.  Beyond your elite education which you do have, if you just caught this year’s Super Bowl halftime performance you get the reference.  Don’t be coy or stupid about it.  If you claim otherwise, then let me ask you this quick question from Mel Brooks classic film, Blazing Saddles.

Stop Taking Pictures of the Stupid Stuff You Do

Oh how I wonder if society could accept such great satire today.  But what the heck kids, are you seriously telling me by now that you don’t realize every picture or video you take will make its way to the internet. We are all stupid when young but who posts every picture on the internet?  Personally, I simply could not have survived my stupid season of life if cell-phone cameras existed and there are in fact a few good old fashioned photos that will never, ever, ever, and I mean never, be digitized.  But as for you office types, in the past year West Point Cadets has been videotaped having a silly absurd bloody pillow fight, Citadel Cadets were photographed in KKK looking garb, and now this.  Don’t tell me that white kids attending college in South Carolina missed the reference.  You are highly educated men and don’t be coy or stupid about it.

Citadel

One of my favorite military sites is the Terminal Lance strip and he often finds himself reminding people that if you don’t want 400,000 people to see a picture then don’t send it to him.  It fascinates me that people will take a knowingly controversial picture, upload it to Facebook, and then act shocked when it goes viral.  You know better kids and as Officers or Enlisted, just quit it.  If a graduating class of any Academy wants to take an old fashioned polaroid of them having intercourse with chickens while waving the Nazi flag that is your business but just put it in a shoebox under your bed until you die so the rest of the military and veteran community doesn’t have to keep getting dragged into these debates.  Ok, can we just agree on this and move on?

Black Women Academy Grads Should Be Proud

Lastly, I’ll also not pretend that the US Military has a clean historical record on race.  The American military has in conflicts past treated minorities poorly.  If you want me to provide examples because you just simply can’t believe it just ask.  I’ll probably start with the combat experienced African-American male who was forced to be a cook, but given an opportunity to fight in Germany as long as he accepted a reduction in rank to Private so he didn’t have to lead white men.  He went on to receive the Medal of Honor by the way. Want more?

But I’ll always be proud of America despite sad moments in our history because we have always evolved and self-corrected as did our national conscience.  No foreign power had to come get our act together for us and while we might be slow to do so, we will get it together.  The modern military could teach the rest of America much about race relations as once a racist redneck from the deep south and an urban kid from the inner city endure of suck together, they have a way of suddenly be willing to die for one another.  You will never find more racial harmony and brutal honesty than between a black and a white man who have fought together in combat.  The modern military has worked hard to get here and if you are not going to advance that process perhaps you just do nothing at all.

Full metal jacket race

Ladies, what if rather than a fist in the air you had a hand extended outwards saying come join me?  Because as Academy Grads and Officers you are in an elite class and while the Vet unemployment rate might be higher than the norm I’m guessing the Academy Alumni unemployment rate is pretty low.  An officer should always lead the way and giving of your men or women any reason to merely fight and die for one another simply leads me to question whether you believe their lives matter.  Pick a side ladies and I don’t mean race.  Are you an activist college student or a leader of men and women in uniform?  The mattering of lives depends on it and I pray that you choose wisely.  The older version of yourself may not treat the younger version so kindly othewise.

If You Have Military Pictures That You Would Never Ever Upload, then Like the Unprecedented Mediocrity Page Below.  But don’t send me the pictures. 

Jeff Edwards

10 Comments

  1. Jeff…you’re blog is usually great stuff but this time I think you’re overreacting. Just me and I’ll still never miss a blog.

    • That’s a fair thought man. I learned a while back with blogging is that you will always win some and lose some. I think that is why I took the tone that I did. It is not that these women are racist or causing strife, but rather a poor choice that age and experience will prove. It is less than helpful to say the least a picture that might have belong on a poloaroid rather than digitized in social media.

  2. Truly, when the bullets are flying the only color that matters is the color of competence and of the leadership of the man ( or now woman) that is your combat leader. Combat is the ultimate paint thinner . . .

  3. Whether these ladies meant to be offensive or not I believe they have defined their careers by this one photo. Every time one of them goes before a board or is considered for this or that assignment this picture will be shown, talked about or otherwise remembered. And it will not be favorable. Heaven forbid they are ever accused of any racial bias while in uniform because guess what, the picture will come up. As an officer and leader of our men and women you don’t have the luxury of expressing you’re own personal opinions while wearing the uniform. I believe that we inherited it from the ones before us and we have to honor it as they did. My son is an 03 now, and that’s the way he put it to me.

    • Yes indeed Gunny! It is unfortunate for them and a poor choice. Some pictures just need to stay in that shoebox!

  4. I like your blog, and I have no idea how I came across it. I agree with Scott. This situation is completely overblown, in my opinion. I am black, and I don’t see the fist raise an act of activism. I see it more as a “we did it.” We overcame some really hard odds, surpassed through the struggles, and we made it. And there is a little bit of “f u to all the haters” in there too. That’s what I see in this picture. That’s what I see when white athletes do it (NCAA tournament/NASCAR, etc.). It’s kinda of inspiring actually. I hear your point about the uniform being sacred, and I completely agree with that. And that’s the 10% of me that wishes they were in jeans and a WestPoint tee-shirt. I think people put context to it that is perhaps not there. The peace sign (2 fingers) would probably be considered an act of activism during the Vietnam-era. And I’m sure if West Point grads were posed in that way during that time, then people will be having the same overreaction.

    • Thanks for the kind words on the blog, I’m glad to have you reading. I do get your point on that their intent may not have honestly been activism. But I think we meet in the middle on that we all agree and wish the picture would not have been taken. Even if it is an overreaction, the military community is ablaze with the conversation and that is hardly what these young officers need.

  5. If there had been one white person in that group, then this wouldn’t be a story. Any time we get groups that lack any form of diversity, someone is going to raise questions of prejudice. Look at it this way: If that picture had been of all the white males, with no blacks or women, would it be seen as just a bunch of buddies saying “we did it!” ? I guarantee that the usual suspects would be throwing race cards all over the place.

  6. Jeff I think that you blog is very thoughtful and well written but wrong. I think that it far more likely that you will regret your blog than the cadets will regret their picture. Heaven forbid a black person raise a fist in a photo. To equate that to wearing a hood is crazy. Any board that would take into account that picture and use it to hold someone back is just looking for an excuse. As a black women graduate of West Point I am very glad that the picture was taken. When I first saw that photo I did not even see the raised fist. I was proud of them for taking the time to get all 16 of them together at one time. Something we failed to do. Something we might have been afraid to do. My thoughts immediately turn to my classmates who supported me through that experience. They should be proud of the photo with the raised fists. I am glad it got out for the world to see.

    Cheers!

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