Submitted to I, Anonymous:

I am sorry, Sergeant.

I was off doing something else the night our brother kicked in the door and spat in your face. One of us told the most tightly-wound rowdy in our crew that you had admired the shape of his ass, just to see what he'd do. He might have killed you.

Had I been in the room across the hall from yours that night, that room in the barracks where we other young sergeants drank too much and filled hours with yelling matches, stupid dares, and fistfights, I'd have played along. I'd have laughed the careless laugh of the elect.

I missed the running tackle that downed him before he could hurt you. Another of our brothers dragged him out, kicking and screaming. I missed the moment when the daily dose of unthinking disdain we had for you exploded all over the unit, up and down the hall.

I arrived for the aftermath: the big nothing that followed the assault of a non-commissioned officer. We should have let our drunk buddy answer for it. He, like us, was a sergeant. Sober, he'd have known to take his lumps for doing wrong. That's how the Army keeps working in impossible circumstances—we behave with integrity.

Instead, we all got busy not asking and not telling. You never had a chance, you see? We never asked, and you never told, but, off-duty, you were just one shade too gentle. Instead of making you our brother, we made you a queer cousin. So, when it came time for him to pay the price, the spit on your face came cheap. He got a talking-to, you got nothing.

Afterward, I saw the shame bear down on you. Yet, you fixed your door and you led your squad. You kept working in impossible circumstances—you behaved with Integrity. We, your peers, made you lead soldiers without the dignity of the stripes you had earned. That is the deadly threat to good order and discipline that politicians ought to rant about. My complicity in this twisted act helped me to see my own lie writ large in my Army's lie.

When integrity matters, you ask and you tell. You tell your brothers who you are. You show up for them, and they show up for you. I did not show up for you, Sergeant, and there has been a burning shame in my gut ever since.

I am sorry, brother.