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Ripping apart the U.S. military ethos and families

By Bill Connor


In a recent Rachel Maddow monologue on MSNBC, Maddow specifically questioned and criticized allegations that top Pentagon officers recommended reconsidering the use of National Guard troops due to the “optics.” When asked about those involved with that phone call at the Pentagon, the Washington, D.C., adjutant general mentioned the name of the Army’s chief of operations, Lt. Gen. Charlie Flynn. Maddow went on a rant of highly charged criticism of Lt. Gen. Flynn. She connected Charlie Flynn to his brother, retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, President Trump’s first national security advisor and a passionate defender of Trump. Maddow demanded to know why Gen. Charlie Flynn was involved with the phone call after highlighting him as the brother of Mike Flynn. Rachel Maddow’s criticisms are problematic on a number of levels, but are becoming ubiquitous from the left. These kinds of attacks threaten to rip the guts out of our nation’s military ethos. Let me explain.


First, it’s important to understand the dynamics of our military. Throughout the nation’s history a disproportional number of recruits and officers have come from a relatively small number of American families. In my own family, going back more than a century, Army officer family members have served in every war from the Philippine Insurrection to me coming back from Afghanistan, and my son is an Army ROTC cadet at The Citadel planning to serve). Our family is not unusual, as many “military families” are disproportionately prone to military service through multiple generations. According to Slate: “In the United States, perhaps the strongest predictor of military service is having a family member who served — allowing for extended family members, it averages to about 80 percent of new recruits across the services. Going a step further, between 22 and 35 percent (depending on the service) are the child of a service member.” Additionally, 44.3 percent of new recruits come from the South, which is 20 percent beyond the Southern population in the U.S. This comes from the traditional warrior and military culture of the South, as with my family’s Southern background.


The Flynn family is a great example of the nation’s “military family” family business. Beyond two lieutenant general brothers in the same family, the family service includes many other family members going back generations from the World Wars to Iraq and Afghanistan. Two brothers rising to the rank of lieutenant general (note: Charlie Flynn has been selected for a fourth star) is an unbelievable achievement. There are only a couple dozen lieutenant generals in the U.S. Army of half a million soldiers. I had the privilege of serving with (then) Maj. Charlie Flynn when I was an infantry captain in Hawaii in the 1990s. He was one of the all-time finest officers I have known, a man dedicated to his profession and the nation. Both Flynn brothers have deployed to multiple combat zones numerous times.


Rachel Maddow’s attack against Lt. Gen. Charlie Flynn was beyond disturbing. It was a blood libel predicated upon being the brother of her political nemesis, Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn. Maddow’s implication was that this military family “blood taint” with Trump supporter Michael Flynn caused Charlie Flynn to hinder the protection of Congress.


On practical grounds, this charge was a ridiculous assertion. The Capitol police force numbers around 2,000 officers, while the number of D.C. Guardsmen (available for immediate deployment to the Capitol) was a couple dozen. It is unlikely those few Guardsmen could have helped within the roughly three hours of the event. We don’t know what Lt. Gen. Charlie Flynn said, but after more than three decades of honorable service in peace and war, we should never question his loyalty to the nation. The blood libel defamation was despicable.


At a recent CNN Town Hall, President Joe Biden, in a discussion of dealing with the rise of white supremacy, which he called “domestic terror,” referenced studies “about the impact of former military, former police officers on the growth of white supremacy in some of these groups.” Biden’s new secretary of defense, Lloyd Austin, decried the alleged white supremacy within the military and called for a “stand down” to root out the alleged threat. Mainstream media continually highlight the alleged threat of “extremism” and “white supremacy” within the military. A letter from Senator Blumenthal and other Democratic senators to the DOD IG alleged serious problems within the military culture. Unbelievably, they wrote: “The issue of white supremacy and extremist ideology within the ranks of our military is not new.” These allegations imply a demand to overhaul the culture of the military. It strikes at the traditions, including family traditions of service.


These attacks are beyond misguided and dangerous. In my experience as a “military brat” and career Army officer, the military was the most color-blind of all fields in American life. The ethos is of selfless service: duty, honor, country. These attacks against military families and traditions threaten to rip apart a culture that has protected American freedom from the beginning. It’s time to stop the onslaught against the military ethos, an ethos fostered by military families. Let’s honor the ethos that has kept us free, including families like the Flynns.


Bill Connor is a 1990 Citadel graduate, 30-year Army infantry colonel and combat veteran. He is a writer and attorney and lives in the Charleston area.

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