“The van was already going over. It was so crazy, it was mayhem, and in that moment you stop thinking,” Strine said. (Justin Strine/Associated Press)
CHICAGO, August 28, 2012 — Justin Strine comes from a family of military service. His father is a career soldier, his sister is in the Air Force, and other members of his family have served in the military. Strine is a student at Penn State. He was an Army ROTC cadet and planned a career as an officer.
Strine made a big mistake, a foolish mistake that cost him his career as an officer in the United States Army.
On November 9, 2011 Penn State students protested and rioted over the firing of football coach Joe Paterno. Strine joined the protesters. He was arrested for helping turn over a television van. He was captured on video with his hands on the van as it tipped over.
Justin Strine was arrested and charged with a felony. He cut a deal to plead guilty to misdemeanor. He spent time in jail, he is on probation or parole until 2015, he was suspended from the university for a semester, and he was terminated from the university ROTC program.
He now has to reimburse the government $34,000.00 for the cost of his ROTC scholarship and owes $8500.00 in damages and fines.
Justin Strine is complaining about the unfairness of it all. He is not the person or criminal he is portrayed as by prosecutors and the university. He is just a student who got caught up in the excitement of the moment.
Unfortunately bad things happen to good people. It does not help if good people put themselves in positions for those bad things to happen, which is what Justin Strine did.
This was not one little mistake or a single lapse of judgment. Strine did participate in the riot and plead guilty. He could have been imprisoned for over one year if he had not cut the plea deal. Not only would his military career have been over - any good career would be nigh impossible.
Justion Strine is probably a good, decent person. He is patriotic and loved the military. Sometimes good, decent, patriotic people get caught up in events they regret later. They willingly become victims of circumstance. They place themselves in harm’s way. Unfortunately there are consequences. People must be held responsible and accountable for their actions.
There is no right to join the United States Military. It is a privilege. The military can impose high standards, especially for officers. Strine broke the rules as well as the law. The military held him accountable for his actions.
Strine’s treatment may or may not be fair. His punishment may or may not be harsh. That is a matter of subjective opinion. But when it comes to the United States military, there is no “fair,” but only “just.” The rules are the rules, the standards are the standards, and people are held responsible for their conduct. Officers and cadets are held to a higher standard of conduct and character assessment than enlisted personnel.
If Strine cannot restrain his behavior for something as simple as not participating in a protest riot, how can the Army trust him to make decisions over the safety, life and death of soldiers?
Character counts in the military. Behavior is the metric by which character is assessed and measured. Strine behaved badly. A person who participates in a riot and is convicted of a crime does not inspire trust in his or her judgment.
What is really disturbing is his comment, “It was so crazy, it was mayhem, and in that moment you stop thinking.“ That alone should deny him the privilege of being an officer in the military. Combat and other military operations are mayhem and craziness. They are described as organized chaos. Military officers cannot stop thinking when things get crazy or mayhem rules.
The military paid Strine’s tuition. As a cadet, they expected him to act like an officer and a gentleman on their dime. He acted like a rioter and criminal instead. Now there is a price to be paid. It is apparent he is slowly accepting that fact. He knows he made a big mistake. What he has to accept is his military career as an officer is over. He should look to other career avenues.
This is a very unfortunate case. Jason Strine, along with other participants arrested that night, is paying a high price for events that followed from the crimes of Jerry Sandusky and the decisions and choices of Penn State’s Administration. He and the other protesters could be considered collateral damage. But, they made conscious choices to commit acts of destruction and violence. They lost any claim to victimhood through their own actions.
It is difficult not to empathize with Justin Strine. He worked hard, studied hard, and played by the rules until he broke them. His punishment is harsh. But, it is not as harsh as being in prison or branded with the label of “convicted felon.” Strine could still make a contribution or serve his country in other ways.
Strine and the military were fortunate. Someone who stops thinking during chaos, mayhem, and craziness is a danger to himself and soldiers he was expected to lead.
Let’s hope that Strine learned one of life’s most important lessons: Never stop thinking. It’s a lesson we should learn from his case for ourselves.
Peter V. Bella is a retired Chicago Police Officer, freelance journalist and photojournalist, cook, and raconteur. He likes to be the irreverent sharp stick that pokes, prods, and annoys. His opinions are his and his alone. Mr. Bella is a member of the National Press Photographers Association and the Society for Professional Journalists.
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