Monday, May 26, 1997

Week of 05/26/1997

Flinn’s Finale
What Lt. Flinn Got Was The Only Way Out
- by David Matthews 2

As I put fingers to keyboard, the final chapter to the saga of Lieutenant Kelly Flinn is being written. Before I go any further, here’s a brief recap for my international readers and those few who have been under a rock this past week:

Lt. Kelly Flinn was an ambitious Air Force officer. She was the first woman to be a B-52 bomber pilot, with dreams of one day being in NASA. She was also a young single woman who apparently fell in love with a guy. According to Flinn, he first claimed to be separated from his wife - who was an enlisted soldier at the base. According to the military code of conduct for fraternization, this was OK.

Unfortunately that wasn’t the truth. He wasn’t separated from his wife. And when it was reported Flinn was having an affair, she first denied it. Then when ordered not to see him again, she disobeyed that order. And when she got caught disobeying an order, she faced a court martial hearing on the grounds of adultery, lying to a superior officer, and disobeying a direct order from her superior officer.

Make no mistake, disobeying an order is a serious charge in the military. Pilots may be ordered to bomb cities, leading to civilian casualties. Not every target bombed in the Gulf War killed only soldiers. A soldier can at any time be ordered to do an action that may cost them their life. In war that is something that can spell the difference between victory and defeat. How many men went to the Normandy beaches in World War II knowing they may die the first minute they land, but their sacrifice will mean the rest of the troops will be able to fight on? And we’re talking about a B-52 pilot - someone who may be ordered to drop NUCLEAR bombs at any time.

So what does the young Lieutenant, whose career is about to be flushed down the toilet because of the liar she loved, do? She goes to the media, of course! The same media that just had a field day trashing Army drill instructors on allegations (and now one conviction) of coerced rapes and sexual harassment against female recruits.

The media and Flinn’s lawyers would like to make this a case of the Air Force singling out Flinn over the affair. After all, if she didn’t have the affair, there would have been no need to lie to her superiors or to disobey a direct order. And, as plenty of reporters pointed out, there have been other cases where more higher-ranking officers had affairs with little or no punishment. So armed with this information, Flinn’s lawyer goes public with an offer - she’ll resign from the Air Force if they give her an honorable discharge. The Air Force said no, and the court martial hearing was set for May 20th.

Then on the 20th, the hearing was postponed by the Pentagon. No doubt it had plenty to do with an appeal by Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott earlier that day who said that Flinn was being "unfairly singled out." This was later echoed by the women’s congressional caucus who practically considered Flinn a modern-day Hester Prynne, wrongly persecuted for her heart. This, of course, is to match the scores of veterans, military spouses, veteran spouses, social busybodies, and Buchannan/Limbaugh fans who are ready and willing to pin the "Scarlet Letter" on Flinn before her day in court.

Then on Thursday, the Secretary of the Air Force made her decision - Flinn would resign, but would only be given a general discharge, not an honorable one. And thus any worries about a court-martial hearing would be gone, and so would Flinn, and hopefully so would the media and all the controversy…

And if you believe the latter would happen, I’ve got a bridge to sell you!

Let’s be brutally honest here… I think that the Secretary’s decision to grant only a general discharge to the lieutenant was the right thing and the only way out of an otherwise tricky situation for the Air Force. To grant an honorable discharge would have alienated and angered those veterans who were rightly given that discharge. And to go forward with a court martial would have opened up a whole can of worms about double-standards and allegations of discrimination for what some would consider to be a relatively minor offense. And all of this amidst congressional budget negotiations - the absolute worst time for any branch of the military to weather a scandal.

Senator Lott’s participation made matters worse. Here was the majority leader, not to mention an influential member of the Senate committee on military affairs, wondering why nothing was being done about the man in the middle of the controversy - the one Flinn had the affair with. Even I - a civilian with only a PASSIVE knowledge of the situation - knew that the guy was a CIVILIAN. In other words, senator, he was outside the influence of the military code of conduct!

And that brings me to another point - if there really was someone to blame for this mess, the fault wouldn’t rest totally with Lt. Flinn. Rather, if the facts are even close to what Flinn said, the majority of blame would rest with the guy she had the affair with. We’re not talking about a subordinate she ordered to have sex with. We’re talking about a civilian who lied about being separated from his wife in order to HAVE an affair! I’ll be REALLY brutal here - I have little, if any, respect for a guy who cheats on his wife! And it’s not because of the "sanctity of marriage" or any other philosophical platitude. It just burns me up to see a married guy who engages in extramarital affairs while I’m living a life that rivals monks. The guy is a DOG! Grab the flea collar and change his name to Fido!

Look folks, this was a lose-lose situation from the start. Flinn’s actions at the beginning of the affair may be excusable, but not when it involved lying to her superiors and disobeying their orders to stay away from Fido. She should have known the risks and recognized when the relationship was going to jeopardize her career. She didn’t, and she now bears the consequences of that decision.

And once again, the media only made matters worse. I have no doubt that if the media did not make such an issue out of this as they did, Flinn would have actually GOTTEN that honorable discharge she requested - simply because the lack of sensationalism would not have riled up the veterans and exposed a flawed system where even majors and generals were given similar punishments for their infractions. Ironic, isn’t it?

We’re going to have to start setting down some easy-to-understand guidelines about military fraternization, as well as some guidelines on how to HANDLE allegations like these. Let’s start with telling all these political busybodies to stop trying to exercise social reforms and start worrying about the REAL issues. Let’s also be willing to tell the media when they’re full of shit and to get their facts straight before starting something they’re not willing or able to finish. Same with the politicians. In fact, it would be real interesting if we start holding members of Congress to the same standards our servicemen are held to. I think most, if not all, members of Congress would be quickly court-martialed for lying if we did that!

And finally, let’s all bite the bullet and recognize that equality in the military won’t happen overnight. And it certainly won’t happen with the PC police putting on Chicken Little acts in front of the media! It will, however, happen when we begin to recognize that equal opportunity also means equal responsibility! Let’s START with a presumption of both genders being treated as equal under the law and work from there. Because the minute we think otherwise is the minute we become everything we rallied against in the first place.

No comments: