As a military spouse — and it's much the same for military parents — you learn, somehow, to get used to the idea that the person you love more than anything will be placed, voluntarily, in harm's way somewhere far from home. But, as Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman alluded to in his testimony before the congressional impeachment hearings yesterday, it is possible that they might be in danger from the government and the people they put their lives on the line to serve. How does one get used to that?
Vindman, whose father brought their family to the United States from Ukraine almost 40 years ago to escape Soviet oppression, addressed him in his opening remarks, after noting "In Russia, my act of expressing my concerns to the chain of command in an official and private channel would have severe personal and professional repercussions and offering public testimony involving the president would surely cost me my life."
He later added, “Dad, my sitting here today, in the U.S. Capitol talking to our elected officials, is proof that you made the right decision 40 years ago to leave the Soviet Union and come here to the United States of America in search of a better life for our family. Do not worry, I will be fine for telling the truth.”
When later asked if his father had expressed concerns about his testimony, Vindman replied that his father was, indeed, "deeply worried" about him testifying about the conduct of the president, seeing it “as the ultimate risk.” But Vindman said he was persevering regardless, as "this is America ... and here, right matters."
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When we send our beloved soldiers off to battle, we have to be prepared, on some level, to lose them to a greater cause. But our emotional and mental calculations for such tragic events rarely, if ever, include the battle to defend democracy from our own government leaders. There are no rules of engagement here, no precedent; anything can happen. Yet Vindman proceeded, powered by his own commitment to cause.
I’m hoping now that his father’s anxiety over his son is superseded by his pride in his dedication. That someone — a commendable, yet by no means, singular Army officer — put his own well-being on the line to speak out against corruption restored my faith in people doing the right thing. It made me proud to have married a soldier. And honestly, it made me feel a little less heartsick about the future of our country.
For his honesty and loyalty, though, Vindman and his family may be in danger: The Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday that the Army "conducted a security assessment" at his request and is prepared to move Vindman and his family to a local unnamed military base if they determine that they are in imminent danger. In a statement, the Army didn't confirm any particular measures it had or was prepared to take but said, “as we would with any soldier, the Army will work with civilian authorities to ensure that he and his family are properly protected.”
Though every Army officer takes an oath to uphold the Constitution and protect it from enemies foreign and domestic, how horrible it must be to consider, as a family, that the greatest threat you might face is in your own backyard. Who is an enemy? Who is a friend? I cannot imagine going about your day knowing you may be in peril for keeping a promise.
As most military spouses know, the spotlight is not the natural habitat of any soldier: Military culture commands our loved ones suborn their own will to a greater purpose. Thus, a service member drawing national attention as an individual is remarkable both as an act of patriotism and of professionalism. It is, as many of us know, easy and perhaps preferable to look away at a little larceny if it doesn't affect the mission or morale; it is hard to turn in your commander, let alone your commander in chief. It is harder yet to sit on television and have your character impugned for doing so.
Vindman is an infantryman who has served in the Army for 20 years and received a Purple Heart for wounds sustained in an improvised explosive device attack during a deployment in Iraq before he became the principal adviser on Ukraine on the Trump White House’s National Security Council. And yet, for reporting to the NSC's legal adviser that he had concerns about the president demanding another country investigate his political opponent, he has been labeled by Trump supporters as a partisan agitator, a bad soldier and an unreliable witness.
But Vindman was undeterred. When Devin Nunes, R-Calif., ranking member on the Intelligence Committee, referred to him during questioning as "Mr. Vindman." Vindman, who, with his two decades of service, earned the respect conferred by his uniform and his title, corrected Nunes, saying, "Ranking member, it's Lieutenant Colonel Vindman, please.” A correction at once proper and dapper.
Rep Jim Himes, D-Conn., later asked Vindman, “Would you call yourself a Never Trumper?” as Trump himself has implied in derogatory tweets. “Representative,” Vindman replied, “I’d call myself never partisan.”
The public political neutrality of troops is foundational to military cohesion, something that, given the gulf between civilians and military, may be lost on the general public. Rather than hew to any party, the allegiance is to the Constitution and the principles it upholds. In that regard, Vindman is following orders to exacting degree, and it makes me very proud as an American and longtime member of the military family community.
Vindman showed up knowing at the outset the cost might well be attacks on his character, his professional future and threats against his family. Selfless service to the Constitution and to our country is one of the hallmarks of military professionalism. It's too bad those aren't hallmarks of our politicians.