When young people stand accused of heinous crimes, their parents will invariably say that their children are not capable of such things.
As an NCO in the army, I tend to think of my soldiers as my kids. Sometimes they need tough love, sometimes they need a swift kick to the ass. Sometimes they do things that make you have to choke back a tear in pride.
A point of personal pride for me coming out of Iraq was bringing all of the soldiers in my team home, alive and safe. That pride was dashed when one of the young men I came home with was dumb enough to try robbing a bank.
11 months ago, I took charge of 10 soldiers, a standard infantry squad. I learned their stories, asked about their jobs and girlfriends. I intervened when one of my men was being harassed at work for being in the Guard. I led those 10 men through our two weeks annual training, through nights when we got little sleep, mornings when the food was bad, and we did everything that the Army asked of us. I took pride in leading my guys, even if it was training, and not combat.
That pride was dashed early this morning when I saw one of my guys on TV. He was on TV in jail clothes, as he was being booked for beating a mentally disabled man.
My disappointment in him is more than I can express. He is 19 years old, more physically fit than 99% of those in the Army. He works hard, rarely complains, and invariably gets the job done. He was eager enough to serve his country that he volunteered to deploy to Iraq early next year. I actually had to help him cut through red tape in order to volunteer.
But today, all of that is moot. He savagely beat a mentally disabled man because he was pissed off. He took the law into his own hands, rather than report a crime (as he believed it) to the police so that justice could be done.
In the end, I am left wondering what I did wrong. I know these soldiers aren't really my kids, but nonetheless I feel like I have failed to impart some specific knowledge on them. I am left feeling like that father you see on TV, earnestly telling the camera that my kid could never do that.