Anybody in the South knows that it has been insanely hot lately. It was nearing 110ºF this weekend. This past Thursday, walking to my car near the intersection of Bastogne and Reilly at about 4:00 pm, I heard an intense concentration of wailing sirens. I assumed it to be heat-related.

It was something else. At 3:30 pm, a soldier pulled out a handgun during his battalion commander’s safety brief and began firing. He killed the battalion commander, mortally wounded himself and injured another soldier in the crossfire. The details emerged slowly. The shooter died of his injuries. Newspaper articles revealed a sordid history: he was facing UCMJ punishment for having stolen Army property (in this case, a $1,700 tool set). He had punched a woman in the face at a bar in his hometown, earning criminal charges and inflicting $60,000 in medical bills. He had deployed twice, once during the brutal, meat-grinder period of Iraq c. 2006 (he served with my former brigade) and again to Afghanistan with his current unit, the 525th Battlefield Surveillance Brigade.

Reading between the lines: 525th BFSB allowed him to deploy, and the prosecutors in Kansas delayed the proceedings so that he could ostensibly go serve America. This is not uncommon: Army logic says that we need all the help we can get, and if a soldier is downrange, he’s at least separated from whatever temptation or conflict caused him to act up. Never mind that we’ll entrust him with deadly force over the lives of locals. The Fayetteville Observer has a story on the final Facebook comments posted by the shooter, and there are users arguing back and forth with all sorts of accusations that you can peruse at your own risk. Apparently the shooter was a member of the battalion commander’s personal security detail while deployed.

When I consider these facts, and the fact that the military suicide rate has surged despite limitless efforts to curtail it (anybody who’s been in the Army in the past five years has been briefed ad infinitum about suicide prevention), I start to get angry and worried. If you ask Army leadership, we’re the strongest military we’ve ever been. Battle hardened. Combat proven. The reason for this is that, in order for Army leadership to rise to the level of brigade command and above, they have had to spend the entire past decade becoming whole-hearted Kool-Aid-drinkers with regard to the state of the Army. Cracks in the finish be damned. If you go back and look at the Army’s statements to itself and others from about 2005 on, it starts to read like a horrifying Thomas Friedman column. The next six months will be pivotal. We’ve turned the corner in Iraq. All’s well, or all’s getting better. And so on. Anybody on the ground could tell you it was false, but given the widening distance between America’s voting public and its military, everyone just hoped for the best and ignored the signs indicating otherwise.

In the world of guys who actually do combat patrols, this phenomenon is called “giving a false report.” You may not be deliberately lying, but you’re making positive gestures to the people above you that things are fine, when they’re very obviously not. I hope that this past week’s shooting is a fluke event, but I don’t trust that assessment. I don’t expect frankness or honesty from the upper echelons anytime soon; I instead expect the usual run of things, the back-patting and hand-shaking, the absurd blanket label of “heroes” (and the furious, spittle-flecked uproar if said absurdity is questioned), and our soldiers will likely keep punching women in the face and committing murders in an organization too myopic and self-satisfied to face the facts.

This isn’t grand or wheezing in your usual 4th-of-July warrior ode kind of way, but it’s the truth as I see it. I welcome your counterpoints.

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