At a quarter past two last Saturday night, I suddenly heard something.
Something that compelled me to wrench my body free from dead-to-the-world sleep and leap to the window where I peered out into the night.
It might have been the loud rustle of bushes as they tried creeping by on what were supposed to be kitten-quiet feet. Or the thunderous tromp in unison they created as they rounded the wooden staircase 150 feet away – one determined Nike-bound foot after the other, climbing higher as they went.
Maybe it was the insistent knock on the neighbor Single Navy Guy’s door and how they enticingly persuaded him as their unsuspecting prey to swing the door wide and step innocently out into the moonlight.
In his skivvies, yet.
A terrified yelp quickly ensued as this small, gung-ho gang of muscular men, each sporting a blood-close high-and-tight Marine haircut, proceeded to dangle that Single Navy Guy over the second-story railing by his ankles.
His ankles, for heavens’ sake!
Watching through the slats of the bedroom blinds, I screeched in a whisper, “Daryl, get up! Something big is happening outside!”
“Nothing’s happening, you’re dreaming,” he muttered. “Come back to bed.”
“No, something is definitely happening,” I said. “Listen!”
The sailor yelped again, mournfully this time. A few seconds later, his gut-wrenching sobs jackknifed through the middle-of-the-night silence.
“Oh, for the love of…” Daryl sighed, lumbering to his feet.
Wearing nondescript T-shirts and shorts, they had tried to come as stealthy as thieves in the night and failed to keep their private justice private.
“They” were four Marines on a personal mission to right a wrong in a well-executed fashion. A wrong they were convinced a single male Navy sailor had committed while one of their “own” had been recently deployed.
This Navy sailor, from what I could gather as voices drifted through the bedroom window, had been romantically pursuing the wife of a young Marine who lived two doors down and a flight of stairs up from us. A Marine who was not at home and apparently had duty that particular night as they dangled this Navy sailor over the railing by his ankles.
“What are you going to do about her, squid?”
“Leave her alone!”
“You’re sure you’ll leave her alone?”
“Yes, I’m sure!”
“How sure are you, squid?”
“I won’t even look at her!”
“You promise you won’t even look at her?”
“If you do, we’ll be back …you know we’ll come back, right?”
“Yes, you’ll come back!”
“If we have to come back, it won’t be so nice next time.”
“You won’t have to come back! I promise, I promise!”
I gripped Daryl’s left arm and said, “I think we should call the police.”
“Nah, they’re okay,” he answered, now wide awake, slowly returning to his comfy-cozy side of the bed. “They’re just delivering a message to a guy who has obviously over-stepped his bounds where a friend of theirs is concerned. It’s a ‘private military justice thing’, Deb. It happens all the time.”
Private military justice. Apparently, it comes in all shapes and sizes.
From four Marines whole-heartedly committed to avenging the honor of one of their own during the wee hours last Saturday night to a sailor who decides to blow the whistle on a co-worker who has pilfered tools and meters from the command simply because he or she wouldn’t swap watches for something important.
Not to mention Navy wives who exercise their own right to “private justice” any time they happen to feel like it.
For instance, spreading an untrue rumor about another military wife who has done something to offend the gossip mongers at a particular command. Filing a false report with Social Services to get out of having to pay another Navy wife for babysitting. Even contacting their own husbands’ commands for no other purpose than to get these sailors into trouble during a heated marital dispute.
By the same token, there are Navy husbands who have discovered that their wives were unfaithful during deployment. The kind who won’t assertively confront their wives, but instead choose to systematically seduce every female friend that wife has ever had as a form of excruciatingly painful “private justice” in retaliation, playing a brutal game of one-upsmanship prior to divorce, simply to prove a point.
Yup, they’re out there.
I asked among my own circle of friends and military acquaintances what they thought about the amount of private justice wielded in the military. I was overwhelmed by the response.
“It’s definitely alive and well,” a chief petty officer told me. “Many of us within the CPO community know how to use it to our benefit and that of the command.”
He cited instances of scheduling subordinates to three watches within a 24-hour period or last-minute work assignments handed out that were designed expressly to punish or teach a “lesson” to sailors who veered from the straight and narrow. These sailors would essentially stand 12 hours of watches within a 24-hour workday or be forced to stay on the job long after others were cut loose for the day.
“You don’t want to appear for duty section muster? No problem,” a senior chief said. “I’ll be more than happy to re-align your way of thinking as I set the watch bill for next week – and, believe me, you won’t like how it looks for you.”
“Private military justice isn’t only about getting even,” a first class petty officer said. “It’s also about getting ahead. That way, when somebody tries to get even with you, you are still ahead because you’ve demonstrated that you can play a serious game of one-upsmanship and still come out the winner.”
I’ve learned that a large majority of the justice exacted by those who are in the Navy or connected to it hasn’t got a thing to do with the UCMJ or NJP – its private justice, all the way.
For instance, Dawn, the wife of a Second Class Petty Officer who lives in Norfolk had her own painful wounds to lick after her husband had an affair with a female on his ship during his last deployment.
“I got even by calling her husband,” she said. “Her husband retaliated by taking everything – the house, the kids, the bank account. I kicked my husband out of the house, telling him that if he tries to get more than his clothes and his car from the divorce, I’ll go to the commanding officer and have both of them brought up on charges of fraternization and adultery.”
Dawn is still hurting from the affair but finds a sense of satisfaction from the private justice she exacted.
Daryl is right: Private military justice happens all the time.
I can’t say it’s wrong…can you?