When Service Members hear the military term “Rules of Engagement” (ROE), they immediately know what it means. Basically at some point, the ROE was issued as guidance to military forces that authorize and/or limits the use of force in certain situations. But, what are the Rules of Engagement in “civilian” life? At what point does a person just decide NOT to engage…and is that rude or inconsiderate? These are the things I have been asking since I got off Active Duty.
My immediate response to circumstances that frustrate me and/or people who upset me is to engage. That engagement might be to try to make things right, maybe to defuse a situation, or ensure my opinion is heard. However, every time I seem to get escalated and want to engage, I’m often reminded of a situation back in 2014 when I was a young first lieutenant (1LT). I was serving as the S4 (Supply and Logistics Officer) in a Calvary Squadron at Fort Bliss, Texas. As one of the very few females on staff, I struggled sometimes being heard and taken seriously. One particular day, I had enough and I blasted an email to a list of individuals to include some of my superiors. I was angry and I ensured they all knew in the email how I felt and what I needed. I got a call from my boss MAJ Walker, who was the Executive Officer (XO), ordering me to come to his office. He told me to shut the door and have a seat…that is never a good sign. At that moment, I was waiting for him to explode, but he calmly sat across from me and we talk about my frustrations as he was having some of the same. That day, MAJ Walker taught me one of the best lessons I learned while in the Army, and even in life. The wisdom he shared with me consisted of never sending an email when you are angry. He went on to give me “ways” to improve my relationships with the “guys” and if I did type an email when I was mad, to save it until the following day. If I still felt strongly about the email and it was still accurate then I could send it. I must admit…every email I wrote in anger from that point on was never sent in the form it was initially written. I later took that wisdom and transferred it to my phone calls which really helped me out when I was a commander.
Now that I’m in the “civilian” world and trying to find my right and left limits, I’m often finding myself in situations when I am asking myself if I should engage. A few months ago I found myself “flipping desk” angry about a situation. I felt there were some underlying causes as to why this group wanted me to be a part of them, but I also needed to get some things in my own life sorted out before I could be “All In”. I initially engaged and thought I had come to an understanding with the individuals, but it was a false sense of hope. The following day I felt attacked, it was like a clear ambush, by an individual I barely knew and who barely knew me. Things just spiraled downhill from there. Trust had been broken on both sides, secret meetings were happening and confidential information had been released. That was all bad, but somewhere in me, I thought it still could all be worked out, but instead of either side engaging on a personal and professional level, it ended with an email that was somewhat expected but very hurtful as to how it happened. I felt myself get angry and everything in me just wanted to get home and engage with another email. I imagined myself sitting across form MAJ Walker and discussing the “next right thing”. Although an angry email was at my finger tips, I envisioned artillery…SHOTS FIRED. Where would it end, do I want it to hit danger close, or do I want to be right on target? GEN Patton said, “Nobody ever defended anything successfully, there is only attack and attack and attack some more.” Although I wanted my side heard and my hurt acknowledged, I knew that nothing promising or good would come about and it would be an attack after an attack.
So…when is it right to engage and when is it right to be silent? Is it okay just to not respond and not even acknowledge a hurt or injustice? Robert E. Lee was an self-proclaimed Christian and he said, “What a cruel thing war is…to fill our hearts with hatred instead of love for our neighbors. I have been to war and it is cruel and ugly with not much good coming out of it.” In fact, the war keeps giving. When service members return from war, they often continue to experience “war” in their own way. For a lot of them, it’s the “war within”. Therefore, why do I want to continue “war” with others?
I was reminded that there are several scriptures that give the Lord’s second greatest commandment which is to love our neighbors: Galatians 5:14, Hebrews 13:1-2, John 13:34 to name a few. However the verse that kept coming to my mind was Philippians 2:3 -- “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourself.” I found myself only wanting to send a letter/email maliciously and had to humble myself with what God has given me to not continue the “war” with others. Although I thought it might seem inconsiderate of me not to respond, God gave me a peace after I truly humbled myself and committed to love others; specifically the individuals I was struggling with even when I don’t feel loved by those others.
Written: June 2020 by Monique Overmyer