In the business world, everyone has a boss. When a problem arises, it gets taken to the boss for resolution. If the boss can’t solve the problem, they take it to the next person up the ladder and ask them to solve it. Eventually, if no one can solve the problem, it reaches the top of the ladder and is left in the hands of the ultimate arbiter, usually the business owner or company board of directors. At that point, the solution makes a reverse trip back down the ladder to the person who first reported the problem. This is the chain of command, and it is present in nearly all social organizations, from the workplace to the family, to clubs, churches, and even politics. For most of us, the chain of command is little more than an acceptance of “the way things are.” After all, somebody has to call the shots, make the rules, and put the foot down. And in the civilian world, we also accept the fact that the person at the top of the ladder may not necessarily be the smartest or strongest or most congenial person, but could occupy their position simply out of luck or nepotism. We don’t always like this, but we know that in our society, this sometimes happens. Businesses, being privately owned, can pretty much run as they see fit, provided that they follow the laws of the land. The success of a business may well depend on the decisions and actions of those at the top of the ladder, not least of all because they affect the lives of the rank and file employees who actually make the business work. The chain of command works (or doesn’t work) because of the level of integrity of those at the top of the ladder. A business executive who treats his people poorly is just as likely to fail as one who has no grasp of sales or marketing. But in the civilian world, most poor leadership results in little worse than temporary economic turmoil for a relatively small few.

In government, there is also a chain of command structure, with new politicians falling in behind their more senior legislators. But unlike the private sector, where one person usually has the final say in matters, in government, when a problem reaches the top of the chain of command without getting solved, there is a final arbiter in the people themselves, who have the power to change their leadership with a vote, and as such, the power to fix the problem. If those at the top of the political ladder fail to keep faith and fortune flowing to those at the bottom of the ladder, they lose their jobs and have to go back to running private companies into the ground.

The military has a chain of command too, but for them, the top of the ladder does not end with the highest-ranking general. For many matters military, the final authority rests with the politicians. Whereas a business leader can decide where to invest his resources, a military leader has no such option. And whereas an employee may take her employer to task for wasting her time or talents, there is no such recourse for the military. Decisions regarding everything from wages to deployments to post-service benefits rest in the hands of elected officials, leaving the military at the whim of those sitting in the chairs of power. Sometimes, the leaders are wise, just, deliberative, and fair when setting policy for the military. Other times, they are arrogant, unrealistic, uncaring, or just plain out of touch. In the civilian world, if our bosses or leaders are no good, we find a new job or join a new club. In the military world, one just grins and bears it. And hopes not to get too screwed over in the process.

The chain of command concept is only as effective as those at the top of the ladder. At some point, those sitting at rungs below the top must get the impression that those above them are making good, informed decisions or else they will want to leave that particular ladder. For the military, effective leadership boils down to a few basic things: being properly outfitted and prepared; having a solid objective, strategy, and exit plan; and following through on certain promises like health benefits, education assistance, and home loan programs. Yet failure of the civilian leadership to provide these things to our military is rarely met with criticism from those directly affected. Instead, the military’s strict adherence to the chain of command precludes members of the military from bringing these issues up with anyone but their contemporaries and immediate superiors. In such a tightly controlled chain of command, it takes longer for problems to be recognized and it becomes easier to pull a fast one on the troops.

Sadly, our military today is faced with an administration and Congress that is not only inept, but two-faced as well. It can’t help that so many of those in elected office have never served in a military unit. They have never seen the reality of war that is the result of their proclamations and policies. They have never been shot at or wounded on the battlefield, nor have they been to a veteran’s hospital for post conflict treatment. In fact, so many of our politicians come from a privileged background themselves, they have no idea what sacrifice even means. They sit perched in the halls of power making deals to decrease veteran’s benefits while declaring support for the fighting forces of this country. They make statements about standing behind the mission of the troops without ever defining what that mission is. They send soldiers into battle, but neglect to properly arm them. Instead of solving problems, politicians create them for the troops, and as the stink rolls downhill to the grunts in the field, the chain of command loses meaning, and the troops lose their sense of purpose and hope.

And though America may still have the most technologically advanced military in the modern world, the effects of our politicians and their policies are taking a toll on the military’s ability to attract and retain good soldiers and officers. The United States government, through its people, recognizes the sacrifice that soldiers make for our country, especially in times of war. As such, we make a pact with our fighting men and women that we will take care of them when they have come home from the fight. We promise medical care, educational assistance, loans to buy homes or start businesses, and assistance in transitioning from the military world to the civilian world with job placement programs. Imagine then how a returning serviceman feels when he applies to a community college in his home state, only to be denied resident tuition because he spent the last year deployed. Imagine how a returning veteran of war feels when he hears that the veteran’s hospital that used to be only an hour away has been closed due to budget cuts and that he now has to travel 4 hours for his treatments, treatments made necessary because of injuries earned in battle for his country. Imagine the aging veteran who lives on the street, without a job or a hope in the world, after having spent his youth in a foreign land fighting a political war with no real plan or purpose. You don’t have to imagine very hard to see these things. They are real, and they are happening.

It’s time to put an end to the empty lip service paid by our politicians to our service men and women. It’s time to fix the broken chain. Our politicians need to be held responsible for making rational decisions regarding our military. No longer should politicians be able to send soldiers into battle without the proper gear for protection and offensive actions. To do so should be an act of treason, for it is no different than sending a toddler into a tiger den. No longer should troops be committed to any action unless an honest and verifiable rationale is enunciated and a cohesive plan is in place, a plan that enunciates a specific mission, a definition for success of that mission, and a realistic method for withdrawal that places control of the war zone back into the hands of the natural citizenry as soon as possible. To send troops into battle without such a plan or purpose should be grounds for impeachment. No longer should resolutions be passed that profess support for the soldiers while legislation passes that decimates the funding for veteran’s affairs. All funding for veteran’s benefits should be legally secure before new military adventures are undertaken. And its time to turn out from office those hypocrites who pretend to love the military, when in fact their only love is the turmoil caused by war and the profits it reaps for their benefactor corporations.

In the chain of command structure, we may not have that much power in our jobs or in our churches. But when it comes to our government, we ARE the chain of command. And it is our duty, to all of those who put their lives on the line through their military service, to make sure that their sacrifice is not wasted, forgotten, or swept away.