Monday, September 25, 2006

UN Experience - A True Story

Since this is my first posting here following my invite, let me share with you what happened to me and my near-involvement with the UN.

My family had moved on three months before I did from Keflavik, Iceland. My next tour of duty was to be the Navy Yard in Washington DC. This would be what is called my twilight tour; it was early 1998 and I had only two more years to do in the navy before I retired with the full twenty.

Before I arrived in DC, my family and I purchased a home approx. three hours due south of DC. I could live in barracks during the week up in DC at Fort Myers in Arlington; from there, the Navy Yard was situated about fifteen minutes away.

I was just getting organized and was already into my sixth month in DC. On weekends, I would commute home, but only if I wasn't working. I worked shifts as a Communications Watch Officer (CWO) at the Navy yard and would also work over at the Pentagon on a part-time basis.

During this time, the so-called "war" was raging on over in Bosnia/Serbia/Kosovo. I can remember almost being in real trouble because at the time, I had voiced my opinions and beliefs that we were fighting against the wrong people there. NATO/K-FOR forces were bombing the hell out of Serb Catholic churches while we were actually aiding Muslims of Kosovo. I felt that this was wrong. I soon realized that Slobodan Milosevic was only doing what was good for his own people. To add confusion, all three were in the thick of the mix against one another, but the big picture was adding up as I learned that Macedonia was being dragged into the mix as well as Albania. The one good thing that Communist occupation did for that region was to quell the religious spats and territorial pissings that were raging on for hundreds of years there. To this day I don't understand why we were helping the Muslims out; maybe it was because here we had a chance to fight against one of our former adversaries' allies, Serbia. But still, I disagreed with this old ideaology because it was old Cold War thinking.

Anyway, on to the story; just setting up the scene here for what was about to happen to me.

The orders came over one of the printers that evening.

"Hey RM1," one of my operators called out. "You have a set of orders here for you to report to Kosovo in a month's time. Do you want to check this out?"

In the past, Radiomen in the US Navy would try and pull a prank on someone by drafting up fake orders and then posting a copy to the victim, making them freak out. Little did they know that I was on to them.

"Sure, go ahead. I wouldn't mind going over there." I added a snicker, but the operator immediately claimed that these orders were real.

And of course, they sure were.

The orders had me reporting to some UN commander in Kosovo. In effect, I was being told to report to some French guy.

Naturally speaking, I began to become very concerned here. Not only was I getting orders to a UN peace-keeping post - I was being sold out because I didn't believe in the UN nor did I appreciate their very existence in our country. For years I had felt this way. The UN was an evil, defunct organization that had lost a lot of power years ago; I held absolutely no respect for the UN and felt that they were an anti-Christian bloc, set determined to end borders and provide a multi-culturalistic society to the globe where we'd all live and work together in peace and harmony.

But I always felt that multi-culturalism was a joke; I was dead set against such an idea.

The following morning, I was tired, needless to say after a long and tedious watch that evening, and especially since I had been perusing this new set of orders. I would be away from home for about a year. I didn't want this and certainly didn't want to be away from my wife and children. Most importantly, I didn't want to end up being in a UN uniform and wearing a powder-blue beret, taking orders from a frog. No, this was certainly not my cup of tea, so off I charged to the bureau that morning to complain about these orders.

At the Navy Annex, I felt I was going nowhere. The detailer explained to me that because of my specialty code in communications, and because I was skilled in speaking Dutch, French and German, I was "perfect" for these orders. These orders, as impromptu as they were, this had happened to me once before. During my tour of duty stateside years before, I got orders to report within a weeks' time to Bahrain during Operation Desert Storm. I went of course, with the understanding that I was helping to fight against Iraq's occupation in Kuwait. Of course, back then, I was upset about leaving my family behind for nine months. But then again, I had no hard feelings against the nature of that assignment.

But this one was too much.

The detailer told me I had no choice to go. My wife was very upset as I was. She too, was not in favor of the UN. "How are you going to take orders from a Frenchman?" She said. I really didn't know. She knew this was against my grain. Not only was I going to have to fight against the Serbs, I was also going to have to put up with bullshit from a predominantly French peacekeeping force. It was against my principles, totally.

I had only one other option - get an attorney and fight my case.

I left the Navy Annex behind, remembering the threat that I'd never see another promotion if I fought these orders. So be it!

I went back to the Navy Yard and went to the Navy Judge Advocate office, where I spoke with a Navy Lawyer.

Navy lawyers are generally lieutenants or officers of a junior grade, or so I had thought. Here is was, sitting in the presence of a navy commander.

"So, you don't like these orders?" He said.

"No, because they go against my principles," I answered. I decided to come clean and add as much as I could against these orders. "I am sympathetic with our enemy," I told him. "We should be fighting against the Muslims," I added.

The commander looked dumbfounded. I told him that I was not at all in support of the UN and told him why.

After an hour meeting with the commander, I felt that I was wasting my time. On one occasion he drifted off; maybe he was just tired. I went back to my barracks room at Fort Myer. I was off from shift work for the next day. Instead of going all the way home, during my 24 hour period off from shift I would often go about the DC area for long walks to the Smithsonian.

The following morning, I took one of these long walks. Of course, the only thing on my mind was this set of orders. It consumed me. I really didn't want to go. At one point, I nearly made up my mind that I would just go AWOL and become a concsciencious objector against the UN and become a political refugee, take up roots in Canada like a cowardly hippie....but that was against my grain and beliefs. In conclusion, I felt I would have to go.

The following day, I received a call from the attorney. He asked if I could come by after my shift. Apparently, this guy wasn't your typical 9 to 5 attorney. He worked all kinds of hours.

He told me that I was in for a legal battle, and that I would have to request a summary courts-martial to petition against my orders. In effect, it was me vs. the United States Government. The thought of a long drawn out battle consumed me - but it would have to be done. I signed some paperwork and soon found myself being subjected to a courts-martial. I could end up in jail or could win my case.

About a month later, I found myself sitting in the legal building, awaiting trial. The process was arduous. I was basically accused of defying orders and was subject to two articles of the UCMJ. One was disobeying a direct order and the other one was violating the general order. The case opened up with a complete review of my entire military career, my past evaluations. I felt like a bug under a microscope.

They found nothing wrong with me because my record was immaculate. I was set for promotion to Chief Petty Officer but was told that this would smear my record. The fight would be worth it, however.

Well into two weeks later, one morning I was asked to recite my re-enlistment oath. My attorney asked me, in front of the panel of officers, to tell the panel where I was in my current enlistment period. I had, in 1996, re-enlisted for another four years. I went on, trying to remember that oath I had taken.

Nervous, I began reciting the oath:

"I DO SOLEMNLY SWEAR (OR AFFIRM) THAT I WILL SUPPORT AND DEFEND THE CONSTITUTION OF THE UNITED STATES AGAINST ALL ENEMIES, FOREIGN AND DOMESTIC; THAT I WILL BEAR TRUE FAITH AND ALLEGIANCE TO THE SAME; AND THAT I WILL OBEY THE ORDERS OF THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES AND THE ORDERS OF THE OFFICERS APPOINTED OVER ME, ACCORDING TO REGULATIONS AND THE UNIFORM CODE OF MILITARY JUSTICE. SO HELP ME GOD."

The room fell quiet.

In conclusion, the court agreed that my oath didn't hold wind to my orders. It was assumed all along that military people would accept these orders to UN posts without realizing that their enlistment contract (if enlisted OR even officer) didn't prescribe them to the UN, but that subject orders would have to come from the US Govenment directly to the person receiving the orders.

Still, however, it remains in limbo; if you look at the oath above, you're obeying the orders of the president and the orders of the officers appointed over you, but at the same time, you're getting orders to support and defend an entirely different entity than the Constitution of the United States.

The conclusion came as a surprise to me. My rights were maintained, as well as the oath....the next step would have been for me to declare my current enlistment contract null and void and for me to leave the Navy. The only remaining problem would have been that I would be leaving early before retirement, but would get less of a retirement pay than planned.

In the long run, the orders were cancelled and I was allowed to continue my 'twilight tour' in Washington DC. I retired from the navy as planned, in 2000, and now happily live and work in Virginia.

Lesson learned: if you know someone that falls under the predicament of getting orders to the UN, have them read my story - there is a way out!

24 Comments:

Blogger Beach Girl said...

Good for you, Steve. Good for you! What got Michael New(sp) in so much trouble? He wouldn't serve under UN and was thrown in the brig.

Again, good for you and your family. Yes, we were bombing the wrong people in Serbia.

10:29 AM  
Blogger Steve Harkonnen said...

BG: thanks. I am not at all familiar with Mike's case, please email me about this? (steve_harkonnen@yahoo.com).

Glad to see that someone else agrees about Serbia. We didn't do them any justice, and the Muslim squatters that walked into their homes and stole their properties away from them isn't mentioned at all in the media nor the history books.

11:16 AM  
Blogger Patrick Joubert Conlon said...

Excellent story. I'm going to link to it.

1:10 PM  
Blogger Stan said...

Very good story. Glad to see you stuck to your principels through what seemed tremendous adversity.

1:33 PM  
Blogger nanc said...

screw the u.n. - perhaps! they'd be much better off nailed in a coffin.

2:19 PM  
Blogger lilfeathers2000 said...

God Bless You.
Great Read!!!

7:10 PM  
Blogger Steve Harkonnen said...

Thank you all for the kind remarks.

9:00 PM  
Blogger American Crusader said...

Great story Steve...I'm glad you suggested it. Did you retire as a 1st-Class Petty Officer or did you make Chief?

6:51 AM  
Blogger Steve Harkonnen said...

AC- I retired as a first class. I made the board four times and held outstanding evals. I once had a command master chief take a look at my record and he couldn't figure out why I never got promoted. Maybe it was because of:

1. The time when I turned down orders to the USS Enterprise but opted instead for orders to Iceland as a sea billet, or

2. This instance with the UN, where I maybe was blackballed from ever picking up chief.

Regardless, I'm happy, and took the cut in retirement pay which wasn't really that much anyway.

8:06 AM  
Blogger Beach Girl said...

God Bless you, Steve. Thank you and your family for your service to our nation, and by extension to us - the citizens.

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