Edited Transcript of a Portion of the GI Rights Hotline Counselors’ Report 10/29/2022

We help people with different situations where their rights are not being protected, and a lot of times those rights are even spelled out in a regulation. But commanders don’t always read those regulations.

A recent case involved an Army reservist that moved to a different state and found his new home was too far away from any unit. Army regulations say he is supposed to be protected from excessive commuting, but the people in his chain of command told him, “Oh you just have to travel anyway.” (They’ve probably never read the rules that say he doesn’t have to.) So he contacted us, and I helped him write letters to his current commander. She got really upset with him for asking that his rights be honored. I also helped him get connected with a Congressional staffer to help advocate for him.

For some reason his commander asked if she could have a virtual meeting with him and the staffer. He was glad when I offered to join them as well. I have never seen anything like this meeting, but it confirmed every belief I have about how the military does things. Their basic tactic: There may be rules somewhere, we don’t care. We bully you and bulldoze and scream and swear at you until you do what we say.” His commander was incredibly rude and repeatedly interrupted anyone who spoke. The meeting felt like she was having a 45 minute tantrum, in which she made doubtful claims. She said that agreeing to travel up to 250 miles to drill obligates someone to travel 350 miles.

After I mentioned some of the regulations that address personal relocation, she asked me if I was an attorney. I said no. “That’s the reason,” she said, “That’s why you can’t understand any of this, and you know I am an attorney.” I followed by asking where in the regulation it says the thing she just said. She said that because I am not in the military, I cannot understand how any of this works.  I felt I was understanding very clearly how things actually work and how different that is from what regulations say should happen.

It was such a reminder to me of what so many of our callers face. It doesn’t matter what the rules say, somebody just hammers them until they feel like they have no choice. Eventually, they just get so discouraged that they give up. Having the Congressional staffer present was interesting too, because the commanding officer also berated her, repeating that people who weren’t in the military couldn’t possibly understand how any of this worked. The staff person hardly got a chance to say anything because this commander interrupted her, too.

Afterward the Congressional staff person, the reservist, and I stayed behind on the zoom conferencing to process what had just happened. The staffer said, “I don’t know why she said we weren’t in the military. I was actually in the military for six years, and the reason I left was because of this.” The three of us made plans for next steps.  including an official Congressional inquiry. We’re going to go higher up, and I think the embarrassment of having a Congressional staffer who is also a former military member  sit through that meeting is promising for the next step.

Even though the meeting was painful, it was such a revelation. When people go to a commander and say “What about these rules, the rules say I’m protected here,” they are told it doesn’t matter. Commands just try to bulldoze and get away with everything they can. It’s a good reminder of how important it is for people to get good information and have support, and to have advocates helping them get things done. There’s no doubt people need us.