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OPINION

Active-duty military already stretched too thin

By ANDREW VERNON AND OLIVIA ANTIGUA | Special to Stars and Stripes | Published: June 16, 2020

For the 1% of the population who volunteer their service to this nation, putting on the uniform is a privilege and an honor. In our recent conflicts, soldiers have deployed on multiple occasions to protect and defend our great nation. What we cannot afford is to put these men and women in a position that goes against everything for which they have trained and sacrificed. We are outraged about George Floyd’s murder, and the images of him being slowly killed by police will be another tragic mark on our nation’s history. His death is one of many in a long string of injustices, which people have been fighting for centuries in this country. The current attempts to protest racial injustice have not risen to the level of insurrection, and people are justifiably upset.

We do not condone violence and looting, but it is up to governors to activate the National Guard when violence erupts locally. Infringing on states’ rights to make that decision is not necessary at this point, and could lead to the violation of individual rights to peacefully protest. Invoking the Insurrection Act to try to force the military to potentially violate constitutional rights to protest could seriously weaken not only the military but also the public’s perception of our military. The difference between using our National Guard in localized emergencies versus invoking the Insurrection Act of 1807 with active-duty soldiers is that National Guard members are meant to provide states with protections during civil unrest and natural disasters. The Insurrection Act would place active-duty service members on our streets, which is an atypical method of delivering protections. Our active-duty service members are not meant to serve on streets across America and could jeopardize the respect Americans have for them. “Those who remember the last time the Insurrection Act was used, during the 1992 Los Angeles riots, warn that President Donald Trump could undo decades of progress between police and the communities they serve if he invokes it now,” states journalist Alicia Victoria Lozano.

Our leadership in Congress, and the current administration, either appeared quiet on the issue or made inappropriate comments leading to additional violence. It’s difficult to say whether our leadership coming together and producing a strong message denouncing Floyd’s death could have reduced violence. They did not appear to do so as politics continued to mix with violence. Our service members have been called to hold the line on streets across America, but protesters are not enemies. They are a voice for Floyd, a voice for black Americans, a voice for all Americans. We need to change our policies and reduce the use of unnecessary force immediately. Our leaders in this country need to come out of their shells, wake up, and deliver some real leadership using their hearts and minds.

There are a number of concerns related to our National Guard and active-duty service members being deployed on the streets. The first is military readiness. Readiness is our military being trained to meet demands of assigned missions. With multiple conflicts ongoing around the world, we cannot afford to have our forces stretched too thin.

The second concern is military morale. Our military has been serving in the longest war in our nation’s history. With multiple deployments leading to injuries from mental health to loss of limbs, separation of families, and financial hardships, morale has become a real concern over the last decade. Putting them at odds with their fellow citizens will not help. You cannot add political upheaval, a broken justice system, poor policing, and putting our military on the streets into the same bucket. If we have this amount of problems at the same time, what has been accomplished over the past three years?

Watching these men and women be asked to hold a line on Main Street America is painful. We cannot put our military in a position that causes outrage, leading to lost hope and a misunderstanding of what their job entails. Our service members do not belong in a fight with our own citizens when we are not actually experiencing an insurrection.

Let’s put to rest the idea of active-duty service members on our streets. It’s time to retrain our entire police force across the nation and retrain annually. Police departments need to have better oversight by state and federal governments. Each department needs to be checked for officers who keep their jobs despite failing to perform responsibly. Police unions need to be overseen for their protections of bad officers, and qualified immunity should be done away with.

This horrific event needs to serve as a final opportunity to learn, and make lasting change so we never have to go through something of this magnitude again. And let’s ensure that our service members are respected for their service and sacrifice, not put in the uncomfortable position of backing political campaigns.

Andrew Vernon, a former career employee at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and a veteran of the U.S. Army, is the founder and president of Andrew Vernon & Associates, a nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting veterans and their families. Olivia Antigua, a senior at the University of Kentucky, is a legislative intern for Andrew Vernon & Associates.

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