Several months ago Staff Sergeant (SSG) Victoria Gettman took a brazen stand against the condescending, unconstitutional practice of mandatory prayer in the military by publicly condemning the actions taken by her local chaplain during suicide prevention training. At this mandatory briefing young soldiers were told they needed faith in God to overcome adversity after the distribution of electric candles to accompany an explicitly religious mandatory vigil and prayer. It should come as no surprise to anyone that the investigation that SSG Gettman's actions prompted resulted in a resounding, "we don't care about you people" from the chain of command. This is the same answer the military has delivered again, and again, and again, ad infinitum to non-religious soldiers.
In my personal dealings with Equal Opportunity Advisers (EOAs), commanders of various organizations, and even military chaplains, I have found that in a majority of instances these men and women will execute their duties with the necessary degree of professionalism proscribed by regulations, even if they do ultimately decide to produce no positive actions. SSG Gettman was not so fortunate. According to SSG Gettman, Sergeant First Class (SFC) Rosario, the EOA for the 32nd Medical Brigade at Ft. Sam Houston, violated myriad regulations in the handling of the case, failing miserably in the lawful execution of his duties as an Equal Opportunity Adviser, all while being confidently disrespectful to SSG Gettman. After thorough consideration of the actions of SFC Rosario, SSG Gettman recently attempted to initiate another investigation, wholly separate from the original complaints. Not surprisingly, the Inspector General office has decided that it will not perform its duties either, and has refused to investigate her complaint, according to SSG Gettman. The individual who made the decision to discard SSG Gettman's claims is the same man who refused to investigate her chain of command for their failure to prevent the unlawful mandatory prayer event in October. According to documents, his name is Master Sergeant (MSG) Burch, but more on that later. For now, let's consider exactly what the EOA failed to do which ought to be investigated.
SFC Rosario may be subject to severe legal ramifications for the specific actions he chose to take. According to SSG Gettman, he wasted no time in demonstrating to her that he would not be taking her seriously. Even prior to their first meeting with one another, this pseudo soldier was guilty of dereliction of duty. After SSG Gettman made the decision to move forward with a complaint, she followed Army protocol and reached out to her unit level Equal Opportunity Leader (EOL). According to documents, her EOL promptly forwarded the request to SFC Rosario, at which point he is lawfully required to take action. What did he do? Nothing. Eleven days from that point he had still not begun the necessary paperwork to move forward with an investigation. According to documents, at that point a meeting was called which would lead this man's career tumbling down the rabbit hole in a confused mess of impropriety.
From the very start, this SFC was out of line. Army EO policy requires that meetings with plaintiffs be conducted in a private setting, in order to ensure confidentiality for the soldier. According to SSG Gettman, SFC Rosario disregarded this regulation by holding his meeting with her in his office with two other uninvolved individuals present and the door left open allowing any interested parties to come, go and eavesdrop at their leisure. Further, he allegedly opened the meeting with an immediately confrontational demeanor, which was confirmed not only by SSG Gettman, but also her supervisor who was present. His opening question: "Did you know that this is in the media?" foreshadowed what was to come. He allegedly went on to blame SSG Gettman for delaying the investigation because she did not go directly to him with her complaint, and instead followed protocol by going to her unit level EO representative.
Soon after the first terse moments had passed, after he had cut off SSG Gettman from giving a complete verbal statement, SFC Rosario advised her that there is really no difference between a formal and informal EO complaint, so she should just file an informal complaint. All soldiers are given enough training to know that this is a blatant lie, although some may glaze over the details of how the two forms are different. A soldier serving as an EOA absolutely knows that this is a lie. And yet there sat SFC Rosario, possibly lying to a soldier in an attempt to dissuade her from addressing the issue of unconstitutional religious privilege. After SSG Gettman stood her ground and confirmed that she did indeed desire to file a formal complaint, the absurdity continued.
Admittedly, the paperwork required for legal proceedings in the military can be confusing to some people. The alpha-numeric soup of DA this and DD that is enough to give any laymen a cross-eyed headache. But for a Non-Commissioned Officer who once took the oath which claims, "No one is more professional than I" no excuses are satisfactory. When SSG Gettman requested a continuation sheet in order to expound on the information she wished to include in her complaint, SFC Rosario purportedly offered her a blank sheet of printer paper. Fortunately, she well understood that there is no professional organization that would accept a scrawled on sheet of paper as a legally sound document and pressured him to provide her with the appropriate document to complete. He apparently feigned to provide her with such a document by presenting a DD2719, which is for the purpose of collecting statements from inmates. To be clear, SSG Gettman is an instructor, not an inmate.
So here we stand at a new impasse. Under normal circumstances many leaders in the military are happy to give the one fingered salute to those of us demanding equality. Now, they are not only following standard protocol when it comes to enforcement of religious superiority, but have taken the stance that incompetence and dereliction of duty will also be tolerated. I'm left curious. Would the actions of SFC Rosario be tolerated if they had taken place during an investigation into instances of racism? Would he still be wearing his rank today if in October a soldier had come to him with reports of sexual harassment and he treated them in a similar manner? I don't think so.
After making appeals to her chain of command, the Inspector General and Equal Opportunity Office, SSG Gettman has exhausted virtually all avenues to have her voice heard. The Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF) is with her though, and we will not sit by quietly while this mistreatment continues. Mikey Weinstein, the president of MRFF and recently named member of the 100 most influential people in the Department of Defense has promised to bring to bear a lawsuit if the Army fails to pursue this issue with appropriate due diligence. Perhaps the Army will find that it is comfortable with making the explicit statement that it is better to be religious than not or that religious soldiers are to be given preferential treatment, but they cannot justify the actions of SFC Rosario or allow any individual to go unpunished for so many criminal acts.