The motto of U.S. Army Special Forces is “De Oppresso Liber” or “to free the oppressed.”
The current Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Mark Milley, is authorized to wear the Special Forces crest on his dress uniform. Milley is not just the Joint Chiefs chairman, but was an Army Special Forces soldier.
As a combat veteran and member of a Gold Star family, I was angered at the sight of federal law enforcement officers forcibly removing peaceful protesters against police brutality exercising their right of free speech in Lafayette Square so Trump could hold a photo op. But it was the sight of Milley walking side by side with the oppressors’ that brought me to tears filled with disappointment and disgust knowing the general is an Army Special Forces soldier. A four-star general who swore an oath to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States failing his oath right in front of our eyes — complicit in use of force to oppress a peaceful protest, violating the right given to all citizens under the Constitution — an abuse of power by every leader involved. General Milley failed in his commitment to free the oppressed. I fear Milley and other military leaders will again fail their duty to the citizens of the United States as the November election approaches and Trump fights to maintain his hold on the presidency.
Milley has apologized and taken responsibility for his actions on that telling day in Lafayette Square. I appreciate that in hindsight — days after the incident occurred — the general has apologized. According to the New York Times, “Mr. Trump’s walk across Lafayette Square” has sparked outrage which “current and former military leaders said, has started a critical moment of reckoning in the military. General Milley addressed the issue head-on.” Did Milley address the issue head-on? How will he address other unlawful constitutional challenges ordered by Trump?
I remain disappointed about Milley’s conduct while in uniform. He should’ve known better. He knows right from wrong. While attending Army Special Forces Assessment and Selection (SFAS) and the preceding Qualification Course (Q Course), Milley would have passed many difficult tasks that required smarts, morals and physical endurance. Army Special Forces training is grueling. Milley would not have excelled in Special Forces without knowing right from wrong. Milley is our country’s highest-ranking military adviser to the president. Milley cowered to power when he stood by Trump in Lafayette Square.
I question how he will react when tested again. According to the Times, “for the past 10 days, he had agonized about appearing — behind Mr. Trump during the walk, an act that critics said gave a stamp of military approval to the hardline tactics.” He should have “agonized” over his decision but not for 10 days! Eighty percent of America believes we are out of control. You are supposed to be the protector of our rights, a symbol of freedom against oppression worldwide. When it counted, you failed.
A glimmer of hope was displayed in recent days when General Milley, along with Defense Secretary Esper, stood up to Trump advising not to deploy the 82nd Airborne Division onto the streets of the capital to police peaceful protesters. Milley clarified his position affirming in a speech that the "armed forces swears an oath to defend the Constitution, which gives Americans the right to freedom of speech.” He went further saying: "The protests that have ensued not only speak to his (George Floyd) killing, but also to the centuries of injustice toward African-Americans.”
I worry for the country, but I believe General Milley is the right person for the job. A flawed general who learned a lesson. He will need to display the intestinal fortitude required to pass the Q Course when standing up to the bully in chief. Milley will be asked to participate in a future unlawful act. He will have to exhibit the courage of a combat vet fighting to free the oppressed. Trump has no regard for the rule of law. It will be up to military leadership to be the backstop of our democracy. America will continue to struggle with Trump, race, religion, voting rights, guns and other social issues. Our military leaders must be accountable to the oath they swore to protect the Constitution. They must fight for the rights of the American people by speaking truth to power allowing freedom to prevail.
De Oppresso Liber!
Scott W. Patton is a member of a Gold Star family and combat veteran that served in the 101st Airborne Division, 82nd Airborne Division, 5th Special Forces Group and 19th Special Forces Group.He has contributed to USA Today, HuffPost, Cleveland Plain Dealer and Military Times. Patton is a real estate developer who lives with his wife and son in Columbus, Ohio.
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Correction. This commentary contained an error about Gen. Milley’s uniform.