Guarding Secrecy (update)

The National Guard has released documents (see inline below) outlining the discipline meted out to some soldiers who took some things from the wrecked Wal-Mart store in Joplin after the tornado. The Guard has taken some heavy criticism in the last week or so, starting with a St. Louis Post-Dispatch article that was picked up and circulated statewide by the Associated Press, for refusing to divulge information about members who were involved in looting while they were on recovery operations, including comments made in this space last Friday.

The situation put the Guard — which is proud of its long, long record of service at home and overseas–in a position most of us found contradictory to our previous relationships with the organization. Governor Nixon, the commander-in-chief of the organization, ordered the release of the information.

The Guard released ten reports on the incident covering what happened, who was involved, and the discipline recommended. Four of the sixteen soldiers detailed to Wal-Mart took some video games and a camera that were being bulldozed into a pile of things to be thrown away. At its peak the National Guard had about 275 members involved in Joplin recovery efforts and still has some soldiers there to help with the Better Jobs Recovery Program.

The Guard blacked out the names of the soldiers involved, three specialists and a sergeant. All were busted to a lower rank for making poor decisions “not consistent with Army standards.” All four admitted later they came to think their actions were wrong and expressed regret for their actions. But Major Tammy Spicer, with whom we have worked since she was a lieutenant, told us “The decisions these soldiers made were inexcusable under all circumstances and just do not meet the army values.”

We didn’t get the names of the four and an argument by those of us in the press that the names should be made public can be made. Major Spicer told us the redacting of the names is in keeping with the Uniform Code of Military Justice guidelines. A wrestling match with the UCMJ is not something the Missourinet wants to climb into the ring for today.

The big question was what had been done with the soldiers who light-fingered some stuff at the destroyed Wal-Mart. We now know. Major Spicer does not know if the soldiers are still in the National Guard.

Perhaps the entire unfortunate incident has created a useful precedent for the Missouri National Guard. Guarding the Guard is not always a good policy for an organization that has such a great heritage of serving the public.

Missouri National Guard documents

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