Downfalls: The Advisor and the Sergeant
In the news: Former White House domestic-policy advisor Claude Allen was arrested for multiple instances of refund fraud, spread over several months, at Target and Hecht's stores in the Washington DC area. Allen was apparently apprehended in January, but was not charged until this month; he resigned from his White House position in February, reportedly "to spend more time with his family."
This is a guy who was making over $160,000 a year, who was working at one of the highest and most prestigious non-elected positions in government. And, as an African-American, he was one of the Bush Administration's role-models for minorities.
So if the charges are true (and since the incidents are reportedly not only numerous -- over two dozen -- but took place in several different stores, it seems very likely they are), the question comes to mind:
What was this guy THINKING?! Why would he risk his career, his reputation, his family, for what was (considering his income) a series of second-rate ripoffs?
What came immediately to my mind was Sergeant Faust.
Sergeant Faust was one of the NCOs in my Army unit. He was a tall, horse-faced, strong-voiced black man. He was career military; I think he had about twelve yars under his belt when I met him. He was a very capable NCO, fair but firm with the soldiers serving under him. I liked him, and respected him, a lot. So did most of the other soldiers and NCOs in the company.
Then one day he was arrested for shoplifting a steam iron from the base PX.
Everyone who heard the news was just flabbergasted. Sergeant Faust had a spotless record; he had never done anything to even merit an Article 15 (non-judicial punishment for minor infractions of military regs and discipline) in his entire career. Why would he do something so small, so petty, but so serious that it would cause his arrest and (eventually) court-martial? What would make him do something so... crazy?
One of the company's other sergeants, a pretty close friend of Sergeant Faust, had a possible explanation: Faust's wife was a compulsive shopper, and Sergeant Faust had been trying to deal, privately, with both his wife's compulsions and the crippling debts that resulted, for years. And the other sergeant felt that Faust finally just broke, and did something, anything, to upset the applecart, to change the status quo. Even if the result was to make things worse.
That may have been a part of it. But I don't think it was the only reason.
About six months before Sergeant Faust's arrest, there'd been a serious incident in the company: After a training exercise, the company's soldiers checked their weapons back into the weapons room. But after everyone had gone thru and apparently checked in their weapon, the gun racks still had one empty slot.
One of the M-16s was missing.
This was serious enough that the entire barracks was locked down; no one still there was permitted to leave, and everyone who'd already left was ordered back, even if they had off-post living quarters. (Some people slept on the floors that night.) The most logical suspect, and the one the military police centered in on, was the soldier who'd used the missing weapon that day. (He'd come to our unit after serving a stint in the stockade for drug-related charges.) The soldier maintained his innocence, but was taken into custody regardless.
Sergeant Faust, and one of the other sergeants, weren't so sure the suspect soldier was the person responsible for the theft. For one, the suspect soldier lived in the barracks, and a search of the building hadn't found the weapon. Most likely, they thought, the weapon had been transported off-base.
And they knew their soldiers pretty well, and they knew which of the people who'd been recalled to the barracks after leaving the base were most likely to have tried stealing a weapon.
Faust and the other sergeant got permission to leave the barracks, and the base. They went to the home of the girlfriend of the soldier they suspected was responsible, and they told her what would happen to her if she knew anything about the theft, or if she helped in any way to keep the weapon from being returned. They told her that if she helped them now, she might be able to stay out of trouble, and out of jail. She was, as I heard the story from the other sergeant involved, shaking and crying on the sofa where she was sitting.
And then she turned and reached behind the sofa, and brought out the missing M-16, and handed it to the two sergeants.
(How The M-16 Was Stolen: The soldier originally issued the weapon checked it in properly, and the weapons clerk placed it in the rack. The actual thief, several people back in line, noted that the weapons clerk then turned his back on the rack to handle the next check-in, and that when people left the weapons room, they moved past the rack of weapons. After checking in his own weapon, the thief quietly snatched another M-16 off the rack and concealed it under his Army jacket; leaving the barracks, he took the M-16 to his girlfriend and told her to hide it for him. Shortly afterwards, he was recalled to the barracks along with the rest of the company.)
Sergeant Faust and the other sergeant showed intelligence, and initiative, and were able to resolve the situation faster than the military police (who were concentrating their attention on the wrong man) would have done. There probably wasn't a medal quite suited for what they had done, but certainly they deserved at the very least a letter of commendation. Didn't they?
What they got was... nothing. Nothing at all. Not a letter, not a commendation, not even a private "Thank you" from the company commander. The CO, as best as I can guess, just wanted the entire embarassing incident to have never happened, even to not being willing to acknowledge even in private that it had happened.
What a shitty thing to do to a good soldier, to a good NCO.
And after Sergeant Faust's shoplifting arrest, I couldn't help wondering how much that denial of recognition must have dwelled in his mind, how much it must have bothered him, how much it must have hurt.
And I couldn't help wondering if that stupid, career-destroying act, that stupid ten-dollar steam iron stuck under his jacket, wasn't his (probably unconscious) way of striking back at the institution that he'd given so many years to, and which had so deeply disrespected him.
I don't know what might have sent Claude Allen along a similar path. Maybe he had his own personal, family problems. But there's been a lot of speculation on various blogs that Claude Allen was, in essence, the White House's "Pet Negro", someone given a high position, but whose work in that position was never really that important, that essential, that respected.
And if Claude Allen came to realize, to understand, how little respect his superiors actually had for him, how much must that have dwelled in his mind, how much must it have bothered him, how much must it have hurt?
And I can't help wondering if those stupid, career-destroying actions, those stupid refund scams, wasn't his own (probably unconscious) way of striking back at the people he'd given so many years to, and who had so deeply disrespected him.
I can't help wondering whether, if he couldn't be respected, he decided, somewhere in his mind, that he could at least be... an embarassment.