Fierce Lives Matter

I am a graduate of the mighty class of 1999 from the United States Naval Academy. While I was there, I was less than a model midshipman. I was a lousy student. I struggled to follow the thousands of ridiculous rules and finished in the bottom of my class. I made a lot of friends though. And had a lot less fun than most college kids have at college. But it was worth it. Of that, I am sure.

Getting yourself into and out of trouble at a service academy is an art form. Some master it better than others. The night before the Army/Navy game in 1997, a bunch of kids from 19th Company, my company, decided to do something stupid. What isn’t important. I don’t even remember what it was to be honest. But we were all put on lock down for the weekend.

Screen Shot 2016-05-13 at 9.38.53 PMThe next day we all got on a bus and drove to Giants Stadium to go sit in the stands and cheer our team on, in uniform, as has been the tradition for a century. Afterward, while the rest of the school went on liberty and spent the night in New York, we got back on the bus and drove back to Maryland.

In protest, a few of us wore luau shirts under our uniform jackets so that the ridiculous pastel patterns would muddy up the pure black sea of midshipmen coats at the end of the stadium. After halftime, a giant banner unfurled from the deck above us with the words “Free 19” on it-an effort to gain our freedom.

My roommate and I were from New Jersey.  And Giants Stadium was our hometown. The lock down was going to cost us a whole lot of fun. This was our protest. Our cause: Beer and partying. And no one cared that a bunch of boys from Annapolis were disrespecting the uniform in service to missing out on partying. On the contrary, it started a tradition. Free 19 is a phrase that lives on to this day at Annapolis.

Last week 16 of the 17 African American women in the 2016 graduating class of the United States Military Academy at West Point posed for pictures in their uniforms. In one of the photos, they raised their right fists. Shortly after, the Army conducted an investigation into whether or not the women violated DOD regulations prohibiting political displays while in uniform-African Americans with raised right fists being a symbol of the “Black Lives Matter Movement”.

Within days, they were all cleared of any formal offense. No punitive actions were taken against them. There’s still a bit of a political debate going on. So I’d like to take a little time to share my point of view on it.

Rules prohibiting military personnel from displaying political support as official representatives of the military are important, maybe about as important as any rule the military has. Those rules affirm a critically important thing about our military and our society. That we have a force of arms, completely separate from the political process, entirely under the command of civilian elected officials and therefore formed entirely in service to the American people.

The military serves the people. And as a result, we enjoy a society where the American people have lived free of fear from the most destructive man-made force the world has ever seen. So those rules are important.

If there’s one thing that I can absolutely assure you, all sixteen of those cadets are aware of that now, if they weren’t a few weeks ago. The military has a good way of making you realize when you’ve wandered off the path. The Army was doing its job to ensure that critical rule was recognized in what I think was an important, teachable moment. Not because of the nature of the movement in question but because the rule matters that much.

That’s a very important distinction.

I’d like to respond to some of the more offended folks I’ve seen take this topic to task though. Because there’s some mad people out there. And their frustration is worth responding to.

If a lack of punishment here bothered you deeply, you probably didn’t go to a service academy-West Point, Annapolis or the Air Force Academy. If you did, you probably weren’t a woman that graduated from one of them. And if you were, you probably weren’t a woman of color.

This year, at West Point, 17 out of about a thousand graduates were African American women. Which means that for the four toughest years of their lives, and the lives of most people they will run into, one had to fill a room with 75 classmates before statistically, one could expect the 76th to look like them.  And that’s hard. Because we don’t tend to give people that aren’t like us the same leeway.  Even if it’s not on purpose. It’s just the way it is. Getting through West Point with less leeway is hard. Crazy hard.

I don’t know what it’s like to be a woman at a service academy but I know with certainty, they didn’t have it easier than I did. I was a male athlete at Annapolis and I made it through on the goodwill of others that these women unquestionably had less of. If you think that’s not true, go ask any woman who ever graduated from a service academy.  If you can find one.

In America, the racial inequality divide is staggering. We can debate the causes but when you’re black in America, the chance that you came from a poor family, a family with a single parent or an incarcerated parent or a low income neighborhood is so disturbingly slanted against you that graduating from a school like West Point is statistically so improbable, that it’s literally unbelievable. As in, if someone tells you they did it, you should be skeptical because it’s so rare.

Here’s a hard truth.  These women would never say this. So I will. You didn’t do what they just did. And you probably couldn’t. So take a breath.

I have no idea what the intent of those women were. I’m not naive enough to believe that all of them were just fired up at graduation. Some probably were.  Or maybe they were doing it to shout at the top of their lungs that that black lives do matter. And that they matter because this is what can be done with one.

One of the most valuable lessons I ever learned at Annapolis was learning the nuance of how not to conform amidst an overwhelming sea of conformity.  And learning it meant that I got it wrong a lot more than I got it right. And like those West Point cadets, I took some lumps for it along the way. But it was worth it. There’s some heavy decorations and more than a half dozen war time deployments on those idiots in the luau shirts above. Much of it was enabled by one indomitable notion. Don’t tell me I can’t. 

We were misfits and failures. And people told us in no uncertain terms we weren’t fit to lead.  But that streak of defiance, the very one that drove us to places others wouldn’t go, is an important one. The trajectory of humankind has pivoted on it. It always has.

It always will.

So, if you’re going to break that rule, and I want to be clear, it’s a good rule, that’s how you do it. Go be one of the 17 black women on the planet that graduated from West Point this year. And in a moment of pride and realization of all you’ve been through to get to that moment,  raise your right fist. Because the world told you and your brothers and sisters that you couldn’t accomplish what you just did.  And you said, don’t tell me I can’t. Because black lives do matter. Because they can be fierce lives. And fierce lives move us.

The separation of politics and the military will survive it. So for the vocally outraged, you can rest easy. Everything is going to be all right.

And for those proud women, I’ll add one more thing. Welcome to the family ladies. Now get to work. There’s plenty of opportunity to put boot to ass for God and country right over the next ridge line. And I would have been proud to serve with any one of you any day.

101 replies »

    • This article was nicely written. It took courage by Sean to write because not only does it shows the disparity in how unprofessionalism acts by cadets/midshipman were handled then but even now today. If anything, this should open the eyes of our military leaders (That is us now – my class of 1995) that WE still cannot separate/resolve race/gender issues and that WE need to re-address DoD regulations and UCMJ IRT professionalism. In my opinion, those midshipman should have been punished. Because of the incidents described by Sean, we are where we are today during events where cadets/midshipman act like college students (half naked, painted, being out of uniform, etc.) and unprofessional. The service academy leaders gave an inch, the and cadets/midshipman, took a yard. The you-tubers and social media generation today have gone unchecked. Even I am at fault because I laughed at it and accepted it (and if you stated you didnt, your not being truthful to yourself). Because of the many years where our service academy leaders have let midshipman/cadets do acts that violate DoD and UCMJ and go unpunished, TODAY we find ourselves trending water in HOW we should deal with acts/statements that occur during times when our country is facing political/racing/gender/religious issues. The Black Lives Matter movement “fist” is what can be insinuated from the pictures that the 16 cadets had photographed themselves on social media. There intent was not a political statement but rather than unity and solidarity for surviving and graduating from USMA. That is a relief; however, that does NOT relieve them for NOT using good judgement nor the fact that their actions violated DoD directives and the UCMJ. The fact that there are MANY cases and examples of previous violations by individuals or groups, DOES not relieve them of the consequences nor the fact that they were unprofessional. There are other ways of expressing solidarity, unity, and extreme pride. This requires better judgement. They had a choice to either use a photo that commemorates the long standing tradition of taking a photo in their ceremonial uniforms or posting the controversial photo that can knowingly cause controversy due to interpretation of what raised fists means. This is the reason why the military has specific DoD directives and the UCMJ that prohibit service members from making comments, statements whether verbal or non-verbal, intentional or not intentional, that can cause controversial situations and falsely provide the public that the services (USN, USCG, USMC, USA……and the academies, and the other military institutions) represent those statements let alone condone it. That being said, the USMA officers made the right decision NOT to punish these cadets because of the past and previous unprofessional acts/statements that had been let slide and go unpunished (regardless of race, gender, religion, etc). I definitely understand about being a minority. I was 1 of 2 korean/mexicans who graduated from USNA. The other graduate was my younger brother. I can tell you this, I understood the challenges that ANY minority (race, gender, financial status i.e., poor, uneducated parents) faced. But I can also tell you this. I knew right from wrong. Since the 1st day of Plebe summer, we are taught the do’s and don’ts, always do a litmus test in order to ensure we use our good judgment, in order to prevent controversial issues or to put ourselves in a situation where our actions would be a negative reflection of USNA and or the Navy. This isn’t about ‘self’. This is understanding that when we took an oath and accepted the commission, we had HIGHER expectations. Those expectations were more important than self-preservation, ideals, etc. I was proud to be an American as well as being a Korean and Mexican. I stand firm in my opinion that these cadets were unprofessional for making a statement and utilizing social media. I will say the same thing for Sean and his group of midshipman. Just because they got away with their unprofessional display, doesn’t mean all actions thereafter, is okay. Two wrongs do not make a right (in this MANY wrongs). Let this be a lesson for our Military leaders, especially the Service Academies. Social media and the DoD directive and UCMJ that provides our military, and in this case, our young officers/leaders for future, MUST understand and comply with. If you can’t, then you should NOT put on a uniform and accept a commission as an officer nor a contract as an enlisted personnel. I am not prejudice because I believe in this. From the start of the controversy with the 16 cadets, I have firmly kept race/gender out of my opinion. And will continue to do so. My hopes are that these 16 cadets will learn from this as well as my fellow officers (green/blue……coasties as well as the bus drivers) will recognize that social media and the DoD directives NEEDs to be re-addressed military wide.

      • Thanks for the response. There’s a little of your sentiment in my point. We were wrong when we screwed off. And I both love and hate that picture me and my classmates for most of the reasons you point out. It’s actually in the 98 Lucky Bag.

      • Merrill, I served as an Army Officer in the Combat Arms. Many times I was the only Black Officer. I was judged everyday by whether I fit in or not. I don’t think these young Officers will have a hard time from true leaders who care about their troops. I experienced some awkward days where people assumed Fox News was the only channel for Officers to watch. Racism exists and your post shows the attitude that underlies the big deal that was made.

      • SO very well said. Thank you. Mistakes are made, but this is past MISTAKE. They should have been disciplined. There are many other ways to support the noble fight that ALL LIVES MATTER. Giving credence to Black Lives Matter, that was a farce at its beginning, and is still so, degrades the true dedicated spirit of those of us that have attended military academies and believe in whole concept of what that means. Having also been a Police Officer, I hold serious contempt for any person that supports Black Lives Matter, yet lives a life supposedly in support of Freedom and the Rule of Law. Just my opinion.

    • Could not agree more …Dr. Jim Savard, USNA, 1965 – THE MIGHTIEST Class to every graduate from Heaven on the Severn. BRAVO ZULU, Sean Hughes – BRAVO ZULU!

    • This is probably one of the best articles I’ve read addressing what its like to be a black female at a service academy. The fact that it is written by a white male is great and sad at the same time. Because people will get it just because the writer is a white male. If a black female graduate wrote it, I question whether it would have been received as well. In short, thank you for understanding.
      I am a black female graduate from a service academy and I concur with your opinion.

  1. The problem I have with this photograph, isn’t the political ideals that these young women are championing, but that they are going to be officers in the United States Army, going in with a pro-racial-bias attitude. Or at the very least, going into the service with the appearance of that attitude.
    I’ll put it this way. When I was a marine, there were marines in my platoon from every walk of life imaginable, and many different races and ethnic groups. There were many people with beliefs and worldviews different than mine. But we put that aside, and accomplished our missions. That’s what the brotherhood is all about.
    Now lets say you’re a young specialist in a random army unit. A white male from, lets say, Kentucky. Your getting a new female LT, and word is spreading around the platoon that she was one of the women in this photograph. Do you trust that new boot second Lieutenant in a combat zone, especially since she is going to be giving you orders that could put your life in jeopardy?
    Lets reverse that situation. Lets say your that new female LT, and that young specialist comes up to you and says, “Hey ma’am, I heard you were in that picture at west point. What’s up with that?” What do you do? Do you explain your actions at that one moment in time, what you meant by clenching your raised fist in protest, while wearing the uniform of a cadet officer? How about if it’s not a young specialist asking the questions, but your sergeant major? Or commanding officer?
    Now we can reverse the situation one step further. Lets say there are is a group of seventeen white male cadets at west point, that are members of the Sons of Confederate Veterans. Lets say they think it would be a swell idea to pose in a line up in uniform with the confederate battle flag. That picture gets posted to social media. Can you imagine the shit-storm it causes?
    Maybe these young women went into the photo with the best of intentions. Maybe they were proud of their racial heritage, and hard work in getting into an elite military academy. Alternatively, maybe they just spontaneously decided on the gesture, thinking it harmless fun. But when you put on a uniform, you represent more than yourself. This photograph can be read as the United States Army condoning black radicalism within its own ranks, indeed, within the ranks if its own future leadership. At the very least, these young women have made their own futures in uniform very hard indeed.

    • I would start by saying that Sean Hughes wrote an excellent piece and I wholeheartedly agree with everything he said.
      I am still waiting to read from anyone to make the same “big deal” on a similar picture of a group white West Point Cadets with fists raised and published side by side when this story first broke.
      I served in the Army for eight years, and regardless of who comes in as a 2nd LT or graduated from which service academy or did what in the past, his/her Company mates or Soldiers don’t treat/respect each other from rumors. On the contrary, in the Military that I served, Officers or Enlisted earn respect how you conduct yourself.
      In the United States military today, you will find people from every background imaginable, some were born in the US and others abroad, and the diversity in our military is what makes it the best in the world. Nowadays people hide behind their smart phone and spew hate and with their narrow minded views before reading an article.

    • I have a very different sense of what the Black Lives Matter movement stands for. It’s not a protest or a form of radicalism. And it most definitely cannot be compared to the Sons of the Confederacy, which is seen to champion prejudice and the misguided racial state of our country in the 19th century. Black Lives Matter is about being seen and bringing attention to a very serious and damaging racial bias that still exists in our country. I think bringing that perspective to the Army is not only healthy but necessary. As a Marine officer myself, I didn’t seek to neutralize anyone’s differences as a leader, but rather to champion them and ensure that all of those diverse voices were heard when I made decisions. Because a decision made by a diverse group will be a better decision, and research has shown that rather definitively. I think it’s damaging at best to put people’s different backgrounds aside when you’re leading them. Those differences are the very things that make each and every soldier, sailor and Marine valuable to you.

      • I wish that were true of BLM. I wish they were simply bringing awareness. But people don’t fight, get cursed out and wished for dead, nor attempts made on the lives of others, people dying or seriously injured, nor property and towns utterly destroyed at a breast cancer awareness rally. I can agree to not call it a political movement. But it most certainly is a violent movement that has not sought to merely bring awareness and equal the playing field. It just hasn’t. It is an all out tantrum that forces people to look at you, and not necessarily change the hearts of those who really need a heart change in this country. And let’s be candid, white America is not the only side that needs a heart change. Again, my opinion.

      • That’s how BLM is seen by you, and how the sons of confederate veterans are seen by you, personally. Your taking your own bias and projecting it, how can you not expect other troops within these officers leadership structure to do the same?

    • IF what you think is true about them entering with racially bias attitudes, and the only inclination was this photo, the system has larger issues. Further, IF your thoughts were true will it be the 1st time an officer entered with “pro-racial-bias attitude,” and since thousands of non-black females have been the majority of graduates should there be other concerns about past grads?

    • Merrell, I served as an officer in the Marine Corps. While active, I served with fellow Marines and white officers who used racial slurs as if it were ok. While this may have heightened tensions a bit between us, we trusted each other no less. In fact, we took opportunities to discuss our differences in order to better understand each other. Today, I work with Marines who openly voice their beliefs and worldviews, which is obviously an opportunity to display personal biases for all to see. There’s no love lost. Everyone is pretty open-minded despite the personal biases. I don’t think these women are going to have the problem you’ve suggested unless they’re dealing with the close-minded.

    • You cannot possibly imagine what it was like to be one of these minority women at a service academy unless you went to one. You can bet that not only were they marginalized as women, but also as minorities too. They most likely formed a tight group within their class and that raised fist is a sign of that solidarity. If white men or women posed like that no one blinks. Why is that?? When I went to Annapolis the folks serving our food, sweeping our floors, mowing the lawns etc were easily 80% minorities, maybe more. Black Midshipmen were PISSED about it too, as they should have been. It ran like a plantation, and looked like one too. This was in 1980. These women DO NOT deserve to be marginalized over this more than they already have been for 4 VERY long years. It was NOT harmless fun either. The idea that it condones black radicalism is ludicrous. The idea that certain white elements would choose to see it that way isn’t.

    • Well said. As an Af-Am female service academy graduate I have the same sentiments.

  2. Sean, outstanding article. Merrel, you don’t know anything about the character of these women from one photo, nor the trajectory of their careers. You make far reaching inferences.
    Proud black woman of USAFA 92

  3. Sean, so proud of you right now. My classmate forwarded this to me, and I was so pleased and happy to see that you wrote it. Thanks for saying what so many of us have been feeling towards these women. USNA Class of ’02.

    • Great to hear from you Amy and thanks for the kind words. I went through a class once that made me see people as people…and it left a mark. You may have heard of it. Much of what I put out on my site was in some way inspired by that and our shared mentors from the old days.

  4. Hey Sean, I hail from “You can’t break a 20,” (plebe year) class of ’00, and then was shotgunned to 16. I’m biracial- you may not remember me but I definitely remember the whole Free 19 thing. I really appreciate that you took the time to stand up for the racial divide in this country. My experience is often just what you described- no one ever expects me to be USNA alumni and people have literally dismissed me until they find out about my accomplishments. I remember being in a Naval Law class and suddenly realizing I was not only the only minority but the only female in the class. It didn’t let it bother me, but it can make you feel isolated to have so little in common with your classmates. When black people graduate from the service academies it is a huge win for their communities and families. I get the pride those girls feel. However, I don’t stand with the Black Lives Matter movement in the slightest. I am absolutely against any and all forms of racial segregation. I’m deeply compassionate about the sentiments and struggles of those whom suffer because of that racial divide. But honestly, it’s a divisive movement. And because this very movement has aroused so much violence, destruction and hate toward others, it has no business being supported in military uniform. I really appreciate being biracial because I get to understand both worlds, cultures and the passionate feelings of each side. I love the discussions on the racial divide. I love the protests for unfairness. And I know there is a race-wide rage at injustices and atrocities that have been committed that we have to fight to even be recognized let alone stop. But we can’t succumb to more division to fix this issue. The injustices will continue – on both sides- until people make a personal decision to be “united we stand.” Part of the problem is neither side listens very well to the other in the midst of personal pain or offense. Another big issue is there’s not enough rubbing elbows with people of different backgrounds, which leaves us judging a book by its cover without reading its pages. BLM has shown itself absolutely against “united we stand” in the American sense. Rather it segregates and further alienates, the very thing it accuses the country of doing to Black Americans. It didn’t have to go that way. But it has. Therefore we need to stay away from that as military members, the servants of The People. We service men and women are supposed to stand for the rights and freedoms of this entire nation, so we don’t become “divided we fall.” If we don’t start closing the disparaging gaps, we most certainly will fall. My opinion.

    • I am surprised to see you and others turn this into a political issue. You don’t know these women, don’t pretend to know their intent. Black people, in fact people of many races and backgrounds, have raised their fist as sign of pride long before BLM movement. I can imagine graduating as one of 17 woman from Westpoint might make you feel a lot of things and I think pride is a more likely scenario than a desire to support BLM. So this whole discourse seems incredibly out of place.

      I agree with the author’s assessment and sentiment – the actions were inappropriate in uniform and should have consequences. I think they have. I trust that Westpoint handled the situation appropriately.

      Let’s not vilify these students and focus on appreciating their accomplishments and what having them in a position of leadership will mean to a diverse enlisted community.

      Great article, Sean.

      • Lets focus on appreciating their accomplishments after they walk the area for 20-40 hours for bringing discredit upon themselves and the United States Corps of Cadets. Why is the fact they are black and/or female have anything to do with this? They are cadets. Their conducts is unbecoming, and should be punished. Note, any conduct that brings discredit upon the Corps of Cadets should be punished. True, or false? If you say false, I am glad you have an “N” on your ring and not an “M”.

  5. Sean reading what you wrote was a breath or fresh air. I’m a USMA at 2012 grad ( black female ) and this picture hit close to home for me. It’s great when I see that other people actually get it because so many don’t and tend to misjudge. Thanks once again

    • Thanks for your service Shalela. Plenty of folks lining up on the easy side of this discussion. I wanted to explore the hard one.

    • Get what? They brought discredit on themselves and the Corps of Cadets. If you are in the Class of 2012, you should see that quite clearly.

  6. Sean has written an excellent piece, no doubt. He addresses a subject that most shy away from because it’s almost impossible to approach the topic without showing personal bias thus inviting criticism from one corner or another. It takes bravery to do so. Sean is to be applauded and I stand with all the accolades he has received. That said, I guess I’ll throw down from my corner a few comments to be profiled as seen fit…

    First, why do we characterize “Black Lives Matter” as a political movement? If the cadets were standing there in solidarity of “Breast Cancer” for instance, would they be receiving the same scrutiny. It’s an awareness issue. Those who turn it political show their prejudice immediately. There is only one side to the issue, thus it is not political. Black lives matter.

    Second, to suggest the picture demonstrates in the cadets a lack of judgement equivalent to that of the “idiots” wearing wearing Hawaiian shirts at the football game is a poor characterization of the professionalism of these officers. They are ready to serve our Country. They are not pulling a ill advised prank as underclassmen at some sorority rush, that due to social media has come back to bite them in the ass. They are making a simple statement. They are not stacking tires on over a flagpole, exploding low quarter bombs on the quad, or hazing underclassmen…all things that show poor judgement but become learning opportunities at a military school should cadets survive the fall out. This is not a learning opportunity.

    Third, I disagree with Sean’s “Don’t tell me I can’t”. As military officers, violating the UCMJ is a criminal offense. Because, there are many things, under the UCMJ, that you simply can’t do…like miss work, disobey an order, fraternize, or speak freely. That, I hope, is not what our new officers are learning at military schools. That said, I don’t believe this to be a Grace Hopper moment either, where one can ask forgiveness rather than get permission because it’s easier. Although it is a bit closer. Sean wisely does not pretend to know what’s in the mind of these women…I would not pretend to venture a guess either. There are 17 minds at work….perhaps all of their reasons are different. What’s not different is this moment of solidarity. A moment in time where they all have put individualism aside and stood together as one. At war, this is the moment of unity that good order and discipline teaches us. This is the band of brothers, and sisters, that Sean and I, or any other warrior would go to war with…this is the foxhole moment. This is what should be taught at military schools. They passed the test.

    Fourth, and this one is not directed at Sean, it’s directed at the comment coming from Merrell. Thank you for your service to our country. I’m glad I wasn’t in your unit…

    • Hi Jim, I agreed with some of your points very much. It is very much an awareness issue, much like breast cancer, but not an awareness movement. This particular movement is violent, not just bringing awareness. In the midst of the violence people are becoming aware- but by violating the rights and destruction of person and property of others. Not American and not for servicemen and women to participate in. Standing for justice does not have to tear down the rights and lives of others, but BLM has. That is the very reason a new movement was started- in response to BLM, which is All Lives Matter. I also agree that these ladies should not be compared to the immature defiance of an entire company made public. It’s definitely not the same. I’m also absolutely in agreement that “don’t tell me I can’t” has no place in the military, at least not for any kind of rebellion that isn’t standing up for justice, equality or the benefit of all. But the last comment against Merrell is harsh and I can’t agree. So many of our counterparts feel just like he does and dismissing him altogether, as though he’s no asset or credit to the uniform because of his differing opinion, is exactly BLM’s racist and divisive approach.
      Don’t dismiss each other, people! Listen and come together. Stop trying to divide all the time!

  7. Yes! Nicely done. Good read with a great understanding. Walking a mile in another’s shoes. Bravo

  8. Lots of good discussion. I would address some of the concerns with this question. Seeing the fall out from this event-the investigation, the media coverage, the ensuing debate etc, do we believe that members of the military are more likely to make political expressions in uniform or less? I think that the answer is less. And that the importance of these rules are clear and we’ve learned a good lesson. My point was to relax the vilification of these cadets because so few of us have been where they’ve been and are in poor positions to judge. My point was not to advocate for the movement they may have been representing or for breaking DOD regulations without consequence. There was no formal punishment but if you think there’s no consequence here, I would challenge that.

  9. Interesting article, however, I think it misses one huge point: accountability. I’m a ’90 grad from the Boat School and trust me, I spent a lot (and I mean a lot) of time on restriction, so I know what it means to be in trouble and I know what it means “to get through on the goodwill of others.” I would agree with Sean that this was a “teachable moment” for those Cadets if that’s what the leaders at West Point had intended it to be…but, I seriously doubt they did. Rather, I suspect that the leadership at West Point just wanted this to “go away” in order to not have any bad publicity and as such, summarily cleared these Cadets of any wrong doing. I doubt seriously that the Cadets were held accountable for their actions in any meaningful or substantial way – i.e. in a manner that they know in the future that further conduct such as this will result in unacceptable consequences for themselves. I tend to believe this because look at what happened with Major Nidal Hasan, From what I’ve read, his behavior prior to the shooting he perpetrated was totally unacceptable, yet his leadership choose to transfer him (“just make it go away”) from Walter Reed rather than hold him accountable and the results were tragic. In my 25 military year career (from Private to Midshipman to LtCol), I witnessed far too often leaders make the easy call rather than do right thing and make the hard call. I tried as best I could to always make the hard call in my career…admittedly, I failed sometimes, but at least I tried.

    As military officers, we are held to higher standard, and we must be. Unfortunately, I don’t believe that these Cadets were…and I don’t seriously they even received a Non-Punitive Letter of Caution – which should have been the minimum and would have at least made this a kind of a “teachable moment.” Moreover, I suspect that if 16 white male Cadets had taken a picture with a Confederate Flag, they probably would’ve expelled…and rightly so, Military Officer can not make political statements, EVER.

    In a larger sense, this is just another example of what’s happening to our society – that we’ve created a system in which there are no consequences for bad behavior…which is not a good thing at all.

    Just my two cents…

    • Sean–I bet these 17 were given more chances, do-overs, mulligans, and non-attributive assistance than you could ever imagine, beginning with their selection to attend.
      But the Army was not going to discipline them amidst the PC gone crazy and phoney race-bating environment of 2016.
      I called this one when I first saw the picture on-line. If you are still unable to differentiate between degrees of a law’s importance that’s on you. There’s no place for relativity-cultural or otherwise-in the UCMJ or our other laws. As you should know by now, Green Lives Matter. The discipline needed to help ensure that must be absolute and unequivocal.
      My career centered around dropping bombs from B52 aircraft: a totally unforgiving environment where lack of knowledge or poor air discipline would result in danger to your crew and the mission. No do-overs,mentors or affirmative actions. Period.
      I do not consider this group of women as having “fierce” lives. They should have been disciplined irrespective of their grad date or the Army’s unabated embracing of PC culture.

      • Thanks for your response. I have a question. Your assumption that they were given these breaks to include lowering the standards for admission is based on what?

      • “Sean–I bet these 17 were given more chances, do-overs, mulligans, and non-attributive assistance than you could ever imagine, beginning with their selection to attend.”

        I love this comment because it says so much about who you are in such a concise way.

        Surely, the entire 17 person cohort could only make it into West Point via some sort of affirmative action.

        Surely, West Point was unable to find more than one black female that outperformed the vast majority of our nation’s high school students…

        Surely, every professor that each of them had at West Point took pity on them, and passed them because they are black women.

        The odds (via basic USMA standards/acceptance rates/academic integrity) are stacked against your asinine comment and if I knew you I would happily take your “bet” and your money. You should be ashamed of yourself and I’m glad you’re no longer in a position to lead service members with your ill-formed assumptions.

      • Tim, although I don’t agree 100% of the LTC’s comment; however, he is almost right. There is an affirmative action for minorities at the service academies. BUT not from what you (or possibly the LTC is insinuating). It is because there is NOT enough applicant’s qualified or applying. That is a fact. I was ONE of those minorities (USNA class of 1995). Now the difference is this. As a minority, WE have to rise above the nay sayers. Yes, unfortunately, from my experience, sometimes there is that stigma hanging over our heads. The only thing WE can do is rise above it, not accept ANYTHING that we haven’t earned in comparison with the majority (caucasion). For example, I did not accept a minority quota to service select as a pilot. My order of merit did’t warrant it (GPA). The quota was there because there was not enough minority pilots. Now, leave race/gender aside. You are missing the point that a few of us are trying to make. One. The USMA officers who made the decision not to punish the cadets were definitely put in a situation where the decision was more than likely a sensitive decision based on race/gender. That is a fact. Two, the military leadership have failed to control and act accordingly when service members (in this case, Sean’s case, and many more examples in the past) to appropriately handle violations of this DoD directive and UCMJ. Because of this, NOW any infraction, especially one made that has caused controversy, due to what the “raised fist” currently represents. (I know what the history is….. I received a thorough explanation from a good friend friend of mine, Tom Fifer, Ret USN CDR, African American). It has made things very difficult for our military leadership today (especially at the service academies) to respond appropriately. Because they have not in the past. If you have served in a position LIKE the retired LTC or have attended any military academy, then you would HAVE truly understood his comment.

        All we can do is hope that our military leadership and the cadets in question will move forward from this…… AND LEARN. The military needs to re-address the do’s and don’ts for social media and re-affirm the DoD directive which prohibit such statement’s. Again, if you haven’t taken an oath as a commissioned officer or accepted an enlisted contract, or do not agree with this, then you have either never served and/or SHOULD never serve in the military. that is my personal opinion on this matter.

      • The other point I forgot to mention. They were aware of what they were doing in regards to posting a photo that was directly in violation to a DoD directive and UCMJ. They were aware that they were making a statement with their photograph. To suggest otherwise, is not only asinine but also suggesting these cadets were not intelligent nor aware of their actions. Trust me when i say this. From day one, we are taught do’s and don’ts, to conduct a litmus test, in order to ensure we make good judgments that will not reflect negatively upon our service academy, the service, our fellow comrades, and upon ourself. We learn to put other before our self. “Ship, Shipmate, Self”. The cadets did in fact display poor judgment and should realize that they could have potentially been discharged. Like the USMC Marine who criticized the President, our Commander-in-Chief, he was discharged with an OTH (other than honorable). It is NOT our place, service members of the armed forces, to make ANY kind of statement. The military needs to aggressively provide social media guidance in order to prevent additional violations.

      • Richard, don’t presume to know what I’ve done or where I’ve been. I am a proud graduate of USMA and know all about the difficulties they have filling slots for qualified black students. In fact, I briefly worked with the admissions department at USMA. You should re-read G.P.’s statement and pick up the extremely thinly veiled racist undertones that have nothing to do with UCMJ directives. “(I know what the history is….. I received a thorough explanation from a good friend friend of mine, Tom Fifer, Ret USN CDR, African American)” And?Typical anecdotal effects that misdirect from my point, which had literally nothing to do with the article and everything to do with G.P.’s attitude.

        I encourage you to call the admissions department for USMA and get the numbers (average high-school profiles) for yourself. Any statement like “I bet these 17 were given more chances, do-overs, mulligans, and non-attributive assistance than you could ever imagine, beginning with their selection to attend.” flies in the face of the facts.

        I haven’t voiced my opinion on Sean’s article via social media, and will not because I’m still active and I don’t see a reason to do so.

        Statements like “All we can do is hope that our military leadership and the cadets in question will move forward from this…… AND LEARN. The military needs to re-address the do’s and don’ts for social media” are obviously true… but then when you devolve into statements like “Again, if you haven’t taken an oath as a commissioned officer or accepted an enlisted contract, or do not agree with this, then you have either never served and/or SHOULD never serve in the military” are laughable.

        You and I both know that out of the thousands of KIA and tens of thousands of WIA from the GWOT, a great many of them couldn’t care less about your opinion. I guess that means they shouldn’t have served right? Or how about the thousands that are going to sign up this year or the next, IOT stake their own claim in the GWOT? If those recruits don’t agree with you, they should stay home, right? Take a break.

      • Leadership isn’t a learned trait. It is innate. You either have it or you don’t.

        Understanding the ideals of the oath (contract for enlisted) is one thing, living by it is another. You either choose to or don’t

        You’ve made your choice.

        Our enemies as well as those who have not/do not serve have the luxury not to voluntarily join an organization like our military (service academy). Who cares what they think.

        My reference to a colleague of mine serves one purpose. Not all african americans agree that the cadets were heroes, that there actions were justified, or that their decision to post a photo on FB displayed good judgment.

        I understand the difficulties as a minority and do not need to call admissions at USMA. I am a minority who went through the process.


        Like the applicant process for the service academies, it isn’t full proof. Graduating from a service academy, doesn’t guarantee a quality officer or leader. Making it to and surviving as a JO, is only a litmus test, but not a full proof method. I commend you for reaching 0-5. Hope you enjoy your retirement. You’ve earned it. Your rank and link as an Alumni, carries weight.

        Thank you for your service.

      • 1. Sean–you asked what did I base my opinion on con-cerning “lowering the stds for admission…”
        Actually, I never mentioned “lowered standards regarding admission.” That said, if you are charged with promoting an organization’s agenda, you
        will conform to that bureaucracy’s policys vis-a-
        vis it’s quotas, standards or current cultural attitudes. How did the Army arrive at its’ initial quota of black fe-male selectees? They didn’t
        lower the standards, but they arrived at a quota none-the-less.
        I also based my assumption on empirical data and on informed deduction gleaned from nearly 30yrs service in USAF and USN from E-1 to Field Grade. Also 20yrs more federal too. I’m just an old soldier who has logged plenty of trigger time and desk time.

        2. Timothy Pacificus: why do you attack the man and not the arguement? Like Dude Lebowski said, “well man that’s like, just your opinion, man.” Not wanting to get too personal (like your “asinine”, flaming reply), but I’ll put my service record up against yours anytime. Including the numbers of women and minority’s careers I helped advance while in Command positions. (As that seems to be the most important criteria in viewing military service as just another pro-gressive social experiment.)
        Twenty-nine years of service and another 20 in the federal bureaucracy are what helped “inform” my assumptions, Tim. So, please cool your jets. Try real hard not to let your liberal-infused relativity overwhelm your judgment and reason in future.
        (Oh, and don’t tell me what to be “ashamed” of, either, Tim. Nothing personal…)

      • Thank you for your 50 years of service.

        At no point did I attribute my opinion on the lack of quality in your comment to a political preference. You have no idea whether I’m a Green Party guy or an anarcho-capitalist. You keep trying to make our discussion political but it isn’t. I said the numbers don’t match up with your IO campaign and that’s an objective fact.

        If you promoted people based on their race or gender then that’s your problem (since you say you were in a position to make the decision). If they met or exceeded the standard then congratulations, you did your job.

        The truth is out there, and there are hard numbers associated with it. You can google the USMA admissions phone number for yourself.

  10. African Americans with raised right fists being a symbol of the “Black Lives Matter Movement” – that’s not the case and shows you simply don’t know what you’re talking about. The raised fist is a sign of black pride – you made it political, not the women in the photo. It’s about on the same level has having an issue with a cadet from Hawaii doing the Shaka sign – i.e., hang lose. Or a cadet from Texas doing a Hook ’em Horns sign. Or a cadet from Kansas making a W – C hand sign for Wildcats.

    Botton line – not everything is about you.

    • Thanks for the comment. I was stating the justification given for the investigation and not my POV on it. I think the rest of the article supports a bit of what you’re saying.

      • Sean, let me be clear – you are part of the solution – it’s great, but finish it off. There NEVER should have been an investigation to begin with!!!! These women – these Patriots – just went through the hardest years of their lives only to then have their next step within the military be put on hold because someone else thought this picture offended them. WTF. Read the comments on your very site – it’s clear people simply don’t get it. The only people making this political are the people who cry foul looking at the photo. Of which, mind you, there is factually over 50 years of photographic proof to support to show that a raised fist is NOT in and of itself political.

        I thought somewhere in all this training it taught officers to stand up to tripe like this – am I wrong?

      • So I think there’s a little bit of understanding of the military investigation process here. They happen often and at the most informal level, which this would have been based on the timeline, are focused on fact finding. It’s not as punitive as an inquiry or courts martial. It’s a bit of a nuance. But it’s important to understand what it is that happened here.

      • Agreed Iamsam. The observers are making an erroneous assumption & judgement.
        The raised fist is about pride in themselves accomplishing something difficult and amazing. The raised fist in the Black community is way older than the movement to which their actions were being linked. As a USMA grad and a Black man, I feel their pride. I get it. It is frustrating to see/hear/read ignorance being applied and inflated.
        They were just expressing Pride in themselves, and that they Succeeded at a daunting task. If you read in more than that, the problem is your jumping in the bandwagon of someone/thing that is misunderstood.
        “Say it loud!” Or have you forgotten.

  11. Great article Sean. As one of those Mids who flunked out, I have a hard time accepting you as sub standard. I didn’t even have the seeds to do something like wear a Hawaiian shirt or ANYTHING like that. I had no idea at the time (class of 83) that our commanders really wanted us to break every rule in the book and NOT get caught. a concept like that was beyond me. Not you though. Proud of you. I agree with your views in this article 100%

  12. The only issue I have with this is the fist in the air has nothing to do with BLM, like you mentioned, “Don’t tell me I can’t,” like when Olympic sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos stood atop the medal podium at the 1968 Summer Games in Mexico City.

  13. Excuse me, but there’s a huge difference between wearing loud shirts under your uniform, and sympathizing with a movement that is violent against law enforcement, and advocates civil disorder. There’s no excuse for the latter. Period.

    I’m a career Naval Officer, commissioned from a maritime academy in New England. Where I went to school, we actually went to sea and learned from day one that trust is everything. Shenanigans aside, we learned to work and comply with rules, because it’s a matter of life and safety.

    I’ve been brought up to treat anyone with respect, regardless of race, gender, social status, etc. We have an African American POTUS, and our country has made incredible progress. Yet we have a new “racial divide”. It’s perplexing, I agree, and terribly unfortunate.

    However, The photo is very inappropriate. Political statements while in uniform is not authorized for so many reasons.

    Granted, college kids make mistakes. Got it. I was in trouble for stupid shit. And I deserved it. And I learned.

    This issue in the USMA photo is punishable. This is conduct unbecoming of an officer, and very poor military bearing. It’s an embarrassment to the school and there should have been some punishment, not a draconian dismissal, but an appropriate consequence to remind them that politics has no place in the line of duty. Hopefully there was a “discussion”, and that they learned something. hopefully they will apologize to the USMA for bringing negative attention to their school. It’s not a joke. We expect more from military college students. They’re not at UMASS or Berkley.

    I did find your explanation of learning to manage getting in and out of trouble, skirting rules, etc as interesting. It explains a lot of things and disdainful behaviors by some academy graduates I’ve observed through my career as a Navy Officer. Usually that comes back to bite people in the ass. People like this don’t last long in hardworking teams built around absolute trust, shared efforts, and hard work. True colors and character come out, and people who spent their time learning to defeat systems generally turned out to be unsuitable for the teams I’ve been on, tackling our Nation’s toughest work. We run off people like you very quickly. You can’t be trusted.

    • When did raising your arm become synonymous with “with a movement that is violent against law enforcement”? Are you aware that all academy graduates raise their fist in the air at one time or another- after singing school song, sporting events, graduation? I have a picture of me with my arm raised high at my graduation, not because I was making a political statement but because I just graduated from a military academy and it was hard.

      I suspect you and others on this thread (Tajsha, Merrell) assume this was a political statement because one, these are black women and two, BLM is top of mind for YOU. Realize that not all black people support BLM or even know the ends and outs of it. Let’s let the Army and West Point decide how to best handle the situation. Stop making this into a political issue.

    • I am a boat school grad who now sails commercially after having served in the navy with some distinction. I routinely have (as both cadets and Mates) students and graduates from your alma mater, and let me point out here that it doesn’t matter which one of the New England Maritime schools you attended, I have served with them all. From that view point, I disagree with vigor that students from your alma mater are better than those from mine.

      As to following rules and orders, blind obedience in an officer is not a good thing, in fact it is VERY BAD! Being rule bound makes you both inflexible and slow. It can kill your subordinates when you doggedly adhere to orders or regulation against the situation in the ground. Those that question the status quo are innovators and tend to be more nimble in tactical application as well as fluid in their thinking. They do not, however make particularly good paper pushers.

      There is, and has always been, a difference between war fighters and office jockeys.

  14. Wow! What a great education for us all on the true nature of this event that should never have caused these incredible women a minute of sleep. I agree completely – USMA ’95….and I was nowhere near the top of the class.

  15. I wasn’t going to comment until I got through the replies.

    I’m a west point grad 97, white male. couple of combat tours, and medically retired from the army due to war time service.
    At this point in my life I’d hate to say anything about this photo in question.

    West point is hard. Service in the army and to the nation is hard. There’s a lot of pressure especially when people’s lives are at stake. I won’t dissect the intentions of any of these young people most who may be 21 or 22.

    It’s not necessary to make assumptions. I’m sure they’ve received their fare share of butt chewing and hate mail.

    There is a chain of command and it’s there for a reason. The army family and west point dismissed the issue. They are the ones that ultimately decide what to say to these young people. . Again I emphasize young because it’s easy to make mistakes at times. I know of lots of mistakes that happened in my time at USMA. This photo in question was taken as an old corps type photo, in tradition. The use of social media and the Internet complicates what may or may not be a situation easily distorted.

    Either way my hats are off to them and all the graduates. It’s an exciting time after an otherwise hard and difficult period of their lives. We should celebrate their accomplishments. Soon enough they’ll be leading troops and they’ve been vetted by west point.

    It’s hard to make it through west point. It’s harder as a woman or a minority. It’s unfortunate that this happened. When I was there we had polaroids. I doubt these young people were trying to besmirch the academy or the army. I don’t foresee them picking up some weapons in mass and becoming self radicalized terrorists.

      • No problem. Thanks for writing this blog post. Blog looks interesting!
        I found the comments section enlightening including the post discussing Navy and race relations in the 80s
        Navy was originally my first choice however I was eventually disqualified for color blindness . Unfortunate. I live in DC metro area and visit your academy every chance I get. I find the 2 academy so refreshing in their parallel yet competitive existences.
        Oh, and some Marines in Fallujah saved my life. That helps too! 🙂

      • I agree with you, after they walk 20-40 hours for bringing discredit on the United States Corps of Cadets. It doesn’t matter ‘why’.

  16. Hi Sean – Fellow USNA alum, 1987. Thank you for lucid commentary. I like what your page is about & just added it to my regular reading list. I’ve had conversations along the lines of this post, but there’s value to posting in the public square – it’s easier to pass around, and you never know who might read.

    Especially now, it is important to advocate level-headed views about inflammatory issues. If our more hot-headed friends, neighbors, and co-workers don’t hears such views from us, then they’ve only other hot-heads to listen to. That’s a positive feedback loop & it’s pretty easy to see the results on the news & in social media.

    To Edward’s point (couple of comments up), I too, have NO IDEA about the sentiment behind the photo; I don’t personally find the “optics” of it disturbing, but in our extraordinarily polarized political atmosphere, there’s alway a sub-group that will extrapolate the worst from a viewpoint (or, let’s call it honestly, a GROUP) they vilify.

  17. First, thank you for this.
    Next, I guess I am a solo member of the camp that believes no mistake was made. A raised fist doesn’t equal Black Lives Matter. As with all symbols, their meaning and intent change with the person using them. The meaning most of us converge on is Black Pride which is not an organization and doesn’t require specific affiliations for its use. For the same reasons stated in this piece, these women are proud (as I was when I graduated from USAFA). A symbolic display of that pride is not an endorsement for any organization nor is it a political statement. It’s a statement that can be both collective and individual but the meaning is determined by the person using it and they have said their piece. The only way you can assert that these women made a mistake is if you (lazily) attribute the fist to be nothing else but a symbol for Black Lives Matter. History says otherwise. The fist and Black Lives Matter are not linked. BLM deploys the fist but it’s faulty logic to say then that all people that use the fist means to evoke BLM. In the press release regarding the incident, it is stated that they were not punished because they raised their fist as a symbol of pride. They weren’t punished because there isn’t anything wrong with doing that in uniform. I want us not to paint the picture that West Point let them off easy because they were being defiant. They didn’t do anything wrong. If folks still conflate a raised fist with Black Lives Matter (and furthermore that this organization is violent or promotes violence), I ask that you examine your assumptions and the logic used to make that assertion. Please continue to give this topic the nuance it deserves.

    • Thanks for the reply. My guess is that your sentiment here certainly played into the decision process of the West Point leadership. To be clear, my assertion that this was related to the BLM movement is not my own. It was the stated reason for the investigation by multiple media outlets. My message was that even if they were expressing that, lets all take a deep breath here.

      • We may be saying or thinking the same thing. But I’m responding specifically to the language used in the piece: “So tone the outrage at their insolence down a bit.” What insolence? And “lack of punishment”. Punishment for what? “African-Americans with raised fists being a symbol of the Black Lives Matter movement”. It isn’t. The juxtaposition to your personal act of defiance (a more distinguishable violation) hints that the picture in question was wrong too. The way it’s currently written hints that they were insolent but that that should be okay because they had a tough time. I’m clarifying (mostly for the other commenters to this post) that they did nothing wrong and the picture shouldn’t be painted as defiant, insolent, or political. Thank you for responding! Very important discussion

    • Leave out the race/gender platform and look at the bigger picture IRT DoD directives and UCMJ. The cadets made a statement. That is a fact. Additionally, they displayed poor judgement by choosing to publish a photo that will bring controversy (they could have published the other photo instead of both). This is WHY there are rules and regulations for ALL service members. There are better ways to show pride and unity and surviving/graduating as a minority. I know this because I am a minority. Additionally, the do’s and don’ts especially IRT how to make make a good judgement is pounded into our way of life since the 1st day of I-day and during our careers. To say that these cadets didn’t make ANY mistake, or shouldn’t be punished, states that either you didn’t understand the oath that you took as a commissioned officer nor understood the rules and regulations that we have to live by daily in the military.

      • You’re making a lot of assumptions about my understanding. My response: okay 😊. People have yet to tell me what makes the picture political in a way that doesn’t assume these women meant to align themselves with an org or the faulty logic that a raised fist automatically confirms this association thus making it political. Until then, I hold that they did nothing wrong. Being black is not political. Being proud of being black is not political. I say that as a black woman who takes service and standards very seriously. I am not a political statement.

      • If you’re thinking that i am making an assumption to your understanding, then don’t make such statements, “they didn’t do anything wrong” or “They weren’t punished because there isn’t anything wrong with doing that in uniform” Do you not understand that making any statement (especially via social media) is a violation and regardless of race/gender (and regardless of previous examples, many wrongs do not make this photo right/justified….all are wrong), as a service member (in uniform/not in uniform) is punishable? The photo leaves interpretation that can be insinuated as political. The UCMJ and DoD directives prohibit these actions for that reason. Do you really believe that these cadets were unaware of what they were doing? You have to ask yourself, would you do the same? Me? No. Because I knew that such actions would not only be a negative reflection on my school (USNA), but also on my shipmates (fellow enlisted and officers), and the Navy on a whole. Being Korean/Mexican is not political. Being Korean/Mexican is not political. I don’t have to make a statement that would create controversy and/or knowingly violate a regulation. Rising above self-preservation and graduating was enough for me to be proud. Additionally, these cadets did not display good judgement. I have discussed this with fellow officers who are African American. I can tell you this. The reaction and acceptance is not 100% favorable. If you do take service and standards very seriously, then YOU should be able to not only understand this but also realize that these cadets are in the wrong (not their reason to show pride but for making a statement).

      • Like I thought, you don’t get it. Unless you’re telling me that you interpret the standard to mean that it’s wrong to be proud of being black and achieving something in uniform. People make statements all the time in uniform and on social media. I have to laugh at the thought of punishments being handed out for servicemembers saying anything about anything. Gosh, we’d both be in trouble here then, no? And if we believe people should be punished for others’ ignorance, then the slope for what’s political and punishable is more slippery than I thought. I would have done the same thing because I’m a black woman. And a celebration of my achievement with folks I achieved it with is not wrong. It’s still amazing to be debating the fist with folks that don’t share the same proximity to it, to blackness, to studying its history, to being black at a service academy, as I and my peers do. I’m not hoping to sway you with this exchange just giving my perspective. I disagree with yours. And that is okay too. I don’t have anything to win. Was just carrying the convo forward from what Sean wrote, which I thought was pretty good. We needed “someone else” to speak up.

        Wish you the best. Be well.

      • It is because of people with opinions like yours that make this a racial/gender issue. You just blindly disregard the rules and regulations that YOU had once lived by took an oath, lived by, etc.. If you just remove the race/gender from it, the cadet’s action to post a photo that created controversy whether or not it was not meant to be political….. ANY such display (verbal, non-verbal) is a direct violation to rules and regulations. YOU should understand this and see the point. Instead, you like many others (those who are prejudice, racist, have a political issue, and especially those who have never understood or have served in the military) are blindly glued to race/gender…. political. It is not because they are black. People make it the issue. However, I will say the decision made by the USMA officers, race/gender was influential due to the sensitivity the situation came to be. I’ll say it again, regardless or race, gender, NO service member is allowed to take it upon themselves to make a statement (political or non-political) which will be a negative or discredit to the service they represent. The cadets decision to post this photo discredits USMA and the Army. It clearly shows a lack of leadership and poor judgement. The decision by USMA not to reprimand them is hopeful that these cadets will learn from their poor judgment. Again, two wrongs do not make a right. In this case many wrongs. The service academies and each individual service have failed to consistently uphold and prohibit such activities. I’ll give you an example. Cadets/Midshipman acting unprofessional at sporting events……like we are a regular college. WE ARE NOT! You continued lack of looking at the big picture and tunnel vision on the race/gender issue states your primary focus. These cadets were vilified and the only reason is because of their race/gender. This wrong. Why because this is not the reason that I see and believe that these cadets should be punished. My sole reason is that they made a statement which created a controversy by posting a photo (they made choice knowingly) on Facebook. There are many other ways to show resolution as a minority. I am a minority. I graduated and expressed it by giving it back to my community and my children. I didn’t NEED to make a statement and risk losing my career by violating a regulation.

      • Yeah, I’m good. You don’t need to address me anymore. I’m an adult with agency. I don’t need you to tell me what my opinion should be on what discredits the corp. Or that I have tunnel vision. Or what I should understand. We have different opinions and you’re gonna have to get over that. It really is okay. Promise.

      • I only replied to your feed because you stated you were an ex-officer. Knowing this, you should have been capable of understanding the big picture. Obviously you had to have understood as you took an oath. Personal opinions, you and I, can freely post. We both no longer are under these regulations that these cadets (and the rest of the armed forces) must comply with. That is my point. yes, you can focus primarily on the race/gender issue. God speed.

      • Still telling me what I should be able to understand…maybe don’t. This is the epitome of condescension when engaging someone you don’t know on a topic you disagree on. I don’t engage people that way because it’s rude.

      • If you’re going to use your background as an officer and defend the cadets actions as acceptable, I suggest you don’t because people who have graduated and served the military; quite frankly, understand the concept. I believe you do understand and primary focus is to make this a race/gender issue. It is now but it shouldn’t be.

      • Still telling me what to do…still insinuating my ignorance. Still assuming my focus. All because I don’t agree with you. Again, you do not need to address me again.

      • It’s not about agreeing. It’s about acknowledge that service members MUST abide by a specific DoD directive and UCMJ that prohibits ANY form of statement. I know you understand this. But by acknowledgement, it discredits what you have been stating all along. Your primary focus is race/gender. it shouldn’t be. You don’t want to acknowledge that these cadets understood and are aware of this violation and that by posting such a photo, it created controversy and brought discredit not only to USMA but also to the Army. I wouldn’t have made this choice and I do not need to be a minority (although I am) to understand this and that I do not need to display unity, strength, surviving the academy, , on social media. Any person who has graduated from a service academy, should know this, and have been taught that we have higher expectations, above and beyond cultural difference, race, gender, religion, etc.

      • You are mixing your emotional feelings with rules and regulations that govern our military. It is not wrong to be proud and to wear your uniform. You don’t have to be a specific race/gender; however, EVERYONE has to abide by the regulations that provide guidance in the services we are in. Look every race has it’s own culture and struggles in today’s society. Your race isn’t unique. I am mexican and korean. I’ve had mine. I believe in the service that I had a career in. I took an oath. I understood the do’s and don’ts. The services and the academies were pretty clear in developing and preparing you(me). There are many african americans who I have discussed this with who do not agree with your perspective. They see it, ironically, as black/white. There are reason why regulations and rules that prohibit any service member from posting a photo that can be interpreted as controversial. It goes against good order and discipline and good judgement. “we needed someone else to speak up”. This statement by you suggests that your primary focus on this issue IS race/gender and that your platform is about black lives matter. ALL LIVES MATTER. I will say this again, look beyond your tunnel vision, and see that these cadets were in the wrong. Just because others did not get reprimanded, some have. They were put themselves in the cross-section because they choose to post it on facebook. That catches ALOT of attention. The military and the service academies need to be consistent and re-address the specific DoD regulation and UCMJ and provide immediate guidance to do’s and don’t with social media. I have discussed this with some of my classmates. Because of this event, that is being done quickly.

      • And to anyone else saying leave out race and gender…understand that that is the reason there’s any controversy at all. It’s not the fist. It’s that they’re black with a raised. Argue otherwise with the hundreds of other photos of West Point cadets with raised fists and not an eye batted. Be good!

  18. Great, thought synthesizing article, Sean. Alot of good comments from every post showing “both” sides. Unfortunately for a very few, their side comments show their pompous, unwarranted and unfounded self-righteous views about other issues not pertaining to the controversy.
    Those comments, as self expressed, are “unbecoming of an officer” and an “embarrasment” to THEIR school, especially for those who by their own egotistical words tackle “our Nation’s toughest work.
    What would you think if I said “I ,too, expect more from a Military School graduates but, after all, he was commissioned from a maritime academy in New England. After all, he was not a West Pointer! True colors and character do come out!

  19. Great article. Imagine that coming from me … USNA Class of ’75 aka the Flower Children of the Brigade. I would like to add that the truth be known, these brave ladies and their actions are the pride of their superiors and the envy of their peers. They will collectively achieve greatness. BZ

  20. You are not correct “you didn’t do what they did”. I did what they did (or what they have yet to do by a few days); graduate from West Point. And, they have caused discredit on the institution, and should be punished accordingly. Then, as all of us who were punished for such foolishness, can go on to collectively achieve greatness. There is NO place for this garbage in a Cadet uniform. Their problem is it leaked. So, its out there and the academy’s reputation is tarnished. You are completely ungrounded.. ‘you didn’t do what they did’. I did, as have tens of thousands before them. Oh, you mean because I am a white male? That’s where this ends. We are/were all cadets. We are/were/will be Army Officers. I don’t see black/white/yellow/male/female/LGBT. 20-40 hours on the area should have sufficed. Then greatness.

  21. @tonyridnell You lost me at “I don’t see black/white/yellow/male/female/LGBT.” Are you blind? We can be one service and still acknowledge people’s cultural differences.

    • Nail on the head. We NEED to see so that we can be intentional about the way we take up space. Ignoring or not seeing who we are leaves us powerless to defend ourselves and others against people who employ our differences against us. We need to see each other as we are. Treating everyone with dignity and respect means honoring each other despite the ways we are different, not pretending those differences don’t exist.

      • Agree. Not understanding racial culture might lead you to believe a simple gesture to demonstrate pride and joy is a symbol of a political movement. And here we are…

      • Jazifresh – I completely agree with you. (I read your above exchange). These girls did nothing wrong at all. The issue is that they’re black with raised fists, and people are making assumptions based on their own misunderstanding of what that means.

  22. Why would we need to understand racial culture in this case? These cadets are about to lead our troops. They discredited the corps, should be punished, and then they can go on to great things as officers in the US Army. What’s the problem?

    • I’m not going to change your mind here but I would encourage you to engage other Black officers and enlisted to get their take on this story and why it is important to recognize and try to understand their culture or at least acknowledge that you don’t understand it and there might be more than meets the eye. And in general, it’s okay to say we are united as one service but don’t be blind to people’s differences. Lack of knowledge creates fear and misunderstanding.

    • Lack of understanding regarding racial culture is the reason people believe they should be punished in the first place. It’s literally the whole point and reason we’re even here. The fact that anyone can conflate the fist with Black Lives Matter demonstrates lack of understanding. Ignorance. But y’all won’t accept Black people telling you that and we HAVE to be wrong about it. How dare I even assert this, right? Fists discredit the corp and you don’t want to hear any different or entertain the possibility that Black people are the subject matter experts here. Like that’s impossible. Like won’t even consider any other alternatives to it being bad. No nuance. It’s always bad no matter what. All fist raisers are cop-haters and support cop-haters. Punish them based on people’s ignorance. An example needs to be made of all people showing black pride in uniform. There is no room for cultural representation of pride in uniform despite DoD-wide support/endorsement of cultural heritage months and diversity celebrations. Fists are always bad! Anything that denotes that you are different is bad. Assimilate. And shut up about being black. We’re all green or blue or whatever ridiculous color your service claims anyways, amirite? Or being proud of being black. All celebrations or statements that denote a difference or pride in the differences that make up our armed forces should be outlawed immediately. There’s no place for that in OUR military. Outrage. Not about rape. Or drug rings. Or cheating scandals. Or the ACTUAL RACISM that happens at these service academies. These are barely a blip in the media. No long blog responses. No withdrawal of financial support. But let some black women raise their fists. Fists. Black pride. That’s what the problem is and you’re telling on yourselves. Sad. But y’all know everything. The reg. I know. Y’all got it.

      • Jazifresh: Your passive-aggressive comments serve to draw in officers of action and black and white certitude. They can’t fathom the extra requirements your relativistic
        positions puts on what, to most of them, seems a clear-cut issue of disobedience to standing regs.
        They attempt to explain to you that their reaction to this violation is not cultural insensitivity or political incorrectness. Unlike Sean, professional military officers who’ve faced the crucible of combat leadership realize that
        discipline and it’s accompanying regs etc., aren’t
        relative and not subject to individual interpretation.
        Anytime one of them like Rodriquez gets close to nailing that down, your approach-avoidance must
        kick in and you leave them with the typical passive-aggressive ploy of “whatever”–the verbal equivalent to physically “leaving me hanging.”
        The military is not a sociologist or community organizer’s experimental playground. It’s an efficient killing machine used when all other tools fail.
        To remain effective it takes discipline and aggressive officers committed to the mission.

      • It is cultural insensitivity. There isn’t a violation as the leaders at West Point have decided. Very clear to me. Nothing subjective about my stance. We disagree. I couldn’t care less about your analysis of my stance and the position it puts anyone else in. Where do we go from here?

      • So, its “cultural insensitivity” to disagree with officers in uniform displaying signs of black radicalism? I guess everyone that disagrees with you is automatically Hitler, then?

      • Look at you proving the point “signs of black radicalism”! A raised fist is not black radicalism and, yes, you are being culturally insensitive and perhaps purposely obtuse if you continue to assert this when black people are telling you it’s not. Absolutely. You can disagree but you’re wrong.

      • “Blah blah…political incorrectness…violation…dishonor…disobedience…killing machine…I still can’t say what makes this political besides ignorant people think it is so it must be bad”…seriously. We don’t have to agree but let’s not pretend to not understand why this is an issue. Everyone wants to remove color and gender because it makes them comfortable knowing full well this conversation would not be happening otherwise. People with lack of cultural context made this a thing. And people are still preposing that we ignore the cultural context of this picture when it’s why it was taken to begin with. If I have relativistic position, then so does everyone else. At least mine is informed.

      • I know you sent this to Jazifresh but I am jumping in. Hope you don’t mind. While, I agree with you that the cadets’ should not have taken the picture in uniform, I do not think the image was a political statement and think assessing it as such (or as a statement of any kind) shows a lack of cultural understanding (and not just race culture) which is why it is important to understand what different things mean to different people.

        Why would you not want to understand the people you lead? Why would you dismiss understanding culture as “political correctness” and call it a negative thing that stands in your way? To me this just sounds like you are advocating for ignorance, for leaders to treat people like robots and not people. One thing I love about the military is that I got a ton of leadership experience. I know the people I led worked a lot harder when I demonstrated compassion and tried to understand them and then when I did not. I think great leaders, ones who demonstrate understanding, are what make are military great or the “efficient killing machine” as you referred to it.

      • usnagrad: hi, I spent 8 great yrs in the Navy. In Nam for Tet, Hue, and brown water ops in Delta. Wtd to fly, joined AF.
        ADM Zumwalt’s Agent Orange caught up with me and I’ve about 6 mths left.

        I wonder to what extent Bull Halsey knew of his mens’ “cultural” proclivities? Or MacArthur? Did your stated criteria for great leadership ever cross Patton’s mind?

        These leaders were mission-oriented, can-do, aggressors which history acknowledges as pretty fair leaders (OK, maybe Bull’s not in their league). Point being, today’s obsession with myriad sensitivities and all things “cultural”, shouldn’t be considerations in defining leadership abilities or an officer’s criteria for mission accomplishment.

        Remove nonessential info from the fact of the picture as a blatant violation of regs and policy, and to me it’s clearly a punishable offense. Or this:

        You’re commanding a nuclear B52 with orders to strike tgts in Moscow. Your black, female CP’s a Muslim, your Bombardier is a Buddhist, the Nav’s a transgendered athiest, EWO is a Wican and the Gunner, a 10yr Scientologist who knows Tom Cruse.

        You knew these things because you, a Southern Baptist, attempting to be the best leader possible, have had philosophical discussions with each of your crew. You know each worldview, background, and life objective. You feel this makes your crew feel closer to you.

        As you launch some decoy missiles and rapidly sdescend to 400ft for the long, hot and bumpy low-level run to Moscow, what are your thoughts?

        That your crew diversity will certainly be the chief factor
        of success? Especially since they all know you’re sensitive to their individual differences?

        Or do you feel crazy good, adrenaline-forged good, knowing they’re the most
        disciplined, best-trained combat crew you could possibly be leading. And, like you, they’re ready to finally fly the big mission they’ve trained for years to master. Each believes the rest to be the best in their business.

    • As a military leader, you should want to understand the culture of the people you lead. I am concerned that you think it’s a case by case basis type of thing. I also think you might not get that you are constantly evaluating people and their race and culture is not something they turn on and off. And you as a leader either understand it and make informed decisions or don’t and make decisions without that knowledge.

  23. Ya know, I can barely keep up. Lol
    Bit of history to offer though. When I was at west point 97 grad here, many many white cadets I knew (mainly from the south) displayed the Confederate flag in their rooms and on their vehicles. Prominently
    Now we didn’t have Facebook then.
    I don’t know exactly what that means, but just a thought I had
    No one got into trouble or was told to take down. I mean, I saw heard arguments about the south rising again.
    Is this just a function of history then ? And that’s if this photo was even a statement. As a 3 star said it wasnt. He put a letter out if you’re interested in that kind of factual thing.

  24. Congratulations to the rest of that graduating class for learning how to govern themselves accordingly. Great job!

  25. USNA ’85 – hard to believe it was the case but I still remember the de-facto barber shop segregation. Mr. Tracy and the white barbers in 7th wing and Mr. Johnson and the African-American barbers in 8th wing. Think about how hard it must be to struggle against that kind of everyday reminder of your place in the institution.

  26. Just a note replying to the thread regarding admission standards being lower for people due to quotas. A big assumption is being made here that because there is a quota the people filling the quota have lower standards to meet for acceptance. In the case of women at USNA (and I would assume USMA as well) the opposite is actually true.

    Quotas work both ways. There is a minimum and maximum allowed and in the case of women the quota system actually makes it HARDER to get in than for a man because there are a maximum number of appointments available for women and more women applying per available position.

    And this is not a belief, it is a fact at least through the class of 2001 when I no longer had access to the statistics from Admissions. They did not work as hard to get in as their classmates, they worked harder.

  27. Another brilliantly written piece, Sean. As an African American man, I long for the day when zero controversy is immediately attached to a visual like the one with these young, Black, female graduates (… shades of ‘Formation’ by Beyonce?. Will I see that in my lifetime? Hard to say, but I remain hopeful and your writing strengthens my hope.