Friday, June 12, 2015

On the Rise, Civil Rights and Human Rights Violations in the US Military

Several years ago, I embarked on a spiritual journey, seeking a higher level of understanding to what brought me to this point in my life.  I took refuge in my natural gift of writing poetry, and I’ve come to believe that our healing powers exist deep within, and it requires a strong spirit to reach in, to help guide others from their darkness.  This is why I advocate for other veterans.

After reading a recent article in the LA Times about the increasing number of suicides of YOUNG military veterans, I felt it in my Spirit to continue to help the voices of those who are no longer here to tell their stories.  Sharing the story has sparked a dialogue on my private facebook page and other women veteran support group pages.  The unbelievable stories of military rape, sexual assault and Command retaliation is disheartening.  But who am I to play “Victim?!”  The last time I checked, I’m a SURVIVOR, and so are my fellow veterans.

The countless lives we are losing to suicide is something President Eisenhower failed to warn us about, when he predicted the military becoming a stronger industrialized complex.  I pray President Obama addresses this issue, rather sooner than later.

While serving in uniform, veterans Civil Rights are being violated on a daily basis and we don’t have the luxury of reporting these violations to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) or the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) because the military is its own jurisdiction, that operates behind an iron curtain.

The longer our veterans are forced to live and work in some of the most aggressive and deceptive environments, they will become more vulnerable to ongoing human rights violations, which goes underreported to Congress in the Pentagon’s Military’s Diversity report, or by the Department of Veteran’s Affairs.

In my memoir I discuss how I was denied Whistleblower Protection, after contacting Navy IG investigator, Dave Brownell, to initially report violations of my civil rights, and the results of an ongoing investigation of fraud, waste and abuse.  During my deposition with investigator Brownell, I’d informed him that I was also a Navy certified IG investigator and had been secretly investigating the command since my arrival, I'd been tipped off of the command's ongoing credit card fraud while deployed to the Middle East; prior to reporting to Coastal Warfare.  I further discuss details of his fraudulent investigation. 

To disgrace my reputation and discredit me, senior command officials resorted to the oldest trick in the book and charged me with committing adultery.  I’ve yet to find the civilian "law" that allows a single person to be charged with committing adultery; which further proves my point that the military operates in a world of its own.  Meanwhile, thousands of returning veterans are forced to live in silence, after enduring years of workplace abuse.   

The following is an excerpt from my memoir, and the title pretty much speaks for itself. 


It Never Had to Go This Far


When it became apparent that my case would most likely go to a court-martial, I filed a second IG complaint, this time with the DoD IG Military Reprisal Division.  In the new complaint, filed on April 9, 2008, I named a dozen or more active duty service members, including government civilian employees and contractors, for their involvement in committing fraud and reprisal acts against me.  The IG investigator, Dave Brownell, had not provided me the promised whistleblower protection, and this time I named him in my complaint as well.

            Still convinced that justice would prevail in my case, I attempted to forward an appeal request of my equal opportunity (EO) complaint to the Secretary of the Navy, via Admiral Greenert’s endorsement.  On April 18, 2008, I scanned and sent an email to Greenert’s legal staff and Equal Opportunity Advisor (EOA), Senior Chief Petty Officer Pope, attaching a 3-page letter in support of my case.  I also mailed a certified copy of the letter along with additional supporting documents. 
The following is an excerpt of my letter:        

To:       Commander, U.S. Fleet Forces Command
Subj:    Appeal Request for Review of My Equal Opportunity Complaint 
             by Higher Authority – Secretary of the Navy

IAW (cited references and forwarded enclosures), I request an appeal be granted for review by higher authority based on legal and/equitable grounds.  It is my perception that existing DoD and DoN regulations were incorrectly applied during the initial investigation of my equal opportunity complaint conducted by NECC and during the review of my appeal request performed by USFFC…. 

   I am of the opinion that specific facts were ignored and weighed incorrectly to substantiate my complaint and appeal request, which I am of the opinion, provides evidence  to  substantiate  a  measurable  degree  of  Reprisal,   Racial  and  Gender Discrimination, Disparate Treatment, continuous and potential exposure to a hostile work environment.” 

I also noted:

   As stated previously, “In my request for an appeal submitted in August 2007, my first attempt to report EO violations was on 28 March 07 to SURFOR IG Office, CAPT Demarco’s staff, at which point I was referred to file a formal complaint to my ISIC, NECC IG. On 30 March 07, I made an initial report of EO violations to include Acts of Reprisal to Dave Brownell.  Only to discover on June 19, 2007, that he failed to initiate an immediate investigation.  Dave Brownell justified his actions by stating, that due to the fact that NECC did not have an EOA on staff during the time I made my complaint, he did not want to “put his boss on report” by forwarding my complaint to a higher authority for investigation.

   I further stated, “As a result of the extreme delay by not investigating my IG complaint of reprisal and other violations, charges were preferred against me on 5 June 07, and since filing the complaint I have suffered severe health deterioration, and additional reprisal and an undeniable degree of humiliation which has estranged my relationship with fellow colleagues, community leaders, friends and most importantly my family.  Since being relieved from my position as the supply officer, my chances for promotion to Commander has also been severely impacted.

   I ended my letter by stating: “For over a year I have attempted to exercise my constitutional right to due process.  Yet I strongly believe that a certain degree of inequality still exists within certain military organizations.  Over 18 years ago, when I volunteered to serve our country, I had a personal choice based on my patriotism to uphold and defend the United States Constitution and its Amendments; which grants us our freedom, our liberty and fair and equal justice for all.  I did not make the decision to serve our country within an organization amongst officers in positions of authority who attempt to deny service members their constitutional right to due process and fair justice.

Very respectfully,
Sy’needa L. Penland

            A few weeks before my trial, I received an email confirmation from Senior Chief Pope that he was going to take action to process my request for an appeal.  I guess I was still na├»ve enough to believe him.  The truth was that while my constitutional rights were being violated, senior military officials had to ensure their professional records remained untarnished.  Months later, after I was released from the brig, I would learn that my appeal request had never  been  forwarded  to  the  Secretary  of  the  Navy. 

At that time, Admiral Jonathan Greenert served as the Commander, U.S. Fleet Forces Command, assigned to the position from September 2007 to July 2009.     He was later promoted to serve as the Vice Chief of  Naval Operations from August 2009 to August 2011.  On September 23, 2011 he was nominated to serve as the Chief of Naval Operations (CNO), the most senior ranking position in the U.S. Navy.  The allegations of an easily silenced whistleblower would not affect his career trajectory……..


Anonymous said...

If my memory serves me correctly, you blogged about this after announcing that you were writing a book. That was a few years ago. The Pentagon should've seen this coming, yet as you brought to the public's attention, "Rank and Race" has a certain privilege in the US military and someone should've taught you this lesson early on in your career. The military is not designed to truly accommodate women, especially outspoken black women such as yourself. I applaud you for doing what is right and I pray your get the relief you deserve. God bless you, you are truly a brave soul and inspiration to others.

Syneeda said...

Anon, It will take more brave women to step forward to share our stories before we can change the way we (minorities) are (mis)treated in the military. Luckily I had/have thick skin and swore to my oath of office as a Staff Corps officer. I never allowed their chauvinism to stop me from doing my job. My Spirit is repulsed by greed and I was never taught how to be submissive to any man, and rank never got in the way of that. We all had a job to do, but I also had a fiduciary duty to uphold. "Let he who is without sin cast the first stone." The arrogance of senior military officers always made me sick to my stomach but it never got in the way of me doing my job. I support the rights of veterans; rights that are striped away from them upon their enlistment and the military's doctrines and regulations not only confines our active duty personnel, it denies them their basic Civil and Human rights.