Like many people, I nearly choked on my Cheerios when I picked up the newspaper and read that the Air Force planned to court-martial Lt. Kelly Flinn because she had an affair with a married man. It seemed so unfair; it was none of the military’s business if she slept with civilian Marc Zigo, the base’s youth sports director.
As it turns out, there are several good reasons for the court-martial. First, Zigo wasn’t just your average Joe. He was married to Gayla Zigo, who happened to be an enlisted woman serving on the same base as Flinn. Second, Flinn didn’t just have an affair — she lied to her superiors and disobeyed direct orders.
If this was a case of a Hennepin County prosecutor charging a woman with adultery, then I would be rightfully outraged. But this is the military and it’s another world. I think it’s a pretty bizarre world myself. I would never be able to put up with the “Ma’am-yes-Ma’ams,” the beds made so tightly quarters can be bounced off them and the cleaning of toilets with toothbrushes — and that’s why I would never voluntarily join.
But Flinn did. No one put a gun to her head; she wanted to fly B-52 bombers, so she enlisted. The code of conduct is crystal clear to people in the military and if she didn’t like it, she didn’t have to sign up.
I understand the natural inclination we might have to stand up for her. After all, most of us have made some bad calls in our personal lives, so who are we to throw stones? But take a look at the facts of the case before rallying for Flinn.
She claims Marc Zigo lied to her by saying he was separated from his wife, Gayla, when he wasn’t. According to many news reports, that’s simply not true. Flinn and a date were out to dinner with the Zigos less than a week before she started sleeping with Marc. How separated could they have been? On top of that, after the Zigos got into a fight one night, Marc called Flinn for solace. Gayla Zigo said she was sitting on the front the steps of their house crying when Flinn pulled up in her car and sped away with Marc. That doesn’t sound too innocent to me.
Even so, it’s not as if she and Zigo were frolicking in bed together when the military police kicked down the door and slapped her with a court-martial. She was given at least three warnings by superior officers to stop seeing Zigo. She even signed a statement saying she understood the order to end the relationship. A week later she took Zigo home for Christmas to meet her parents. Talk about defying authority.
Picture your place of employment and imagine that one of your co-workers is having an affair with your husband/wife/partner. Think of the divisive environment it would produce, with some of the staff taking your side and some siding with the adulterer. What would that do to morale? To productivity? Would the workplace really be running as smoothly as possible?
And Flinn is not some person whose biggest responsibility is flipping burgers or entering data into a computer. She’s flying jets loaded with 70,000 pounds of nuclear weapons. This is definitely not an instance where we want jealousy or base politics to get in the way of doing a good job.
Yet many have stepped up to defend her.
Republican Sen. Trent Lott said the Pentagon should “get real” about human behavior. Excuse me? This is the same man who championed the Defense of Marriage Act. God forbid we should recognize gay marriage lest it tarnish this sanctified thing we call “holy wedlock.” But then again, Lott says, what do a couple of vows represent anyway? I mean, “get real.” Which is it, Mr. Senate Moral Majority Leader?
Others have labeled this a women’s rights issue. Please. That only lessens the credibility of women who have legitimate harassment or discrimination complaints.
Republican Olympia Snowe, the only woman on the Senate Armed Services Committee, said the Air Force’s treatment of Flinn will “have a chilling effect on women serving in the military.” What, they’ll all stop breaking the rules? How unthinkable!
The National Organization for Women put out a statement saying the Air Force acted “unscrupulously” and that “gender bias undoubtedly is a factor in Lt. Flinn’s case.” The organization goes on to point out several cases in which men serving in the armed forces committed worse crimes but received less harsh treatment. That may be true, and if so it’s wrong. However, I would also note that last year the Air Force court-martialed 60 men on adultery charges and only seven women. And keep in mind, Lt. Flinn was given ample opportunity to get out of this with no repercussions and she chose to continue the affair.
The way Flinn is portraying herself as the victim of a deceitful man does nothing to further women’s rights. (“I truly fell deeply in love with a man who led me down this path of self-destruction and career destruction,” she told the Air Force.) Is Flinn a bad-ass pilot or a duped woman who is unable to think for herself? Feminists would do well to refrain from making her a role model. Although I must say I admire the fact that neither Flinn nor her lawyers have portrayed this as a case of unequal treatment based on gender.
None of this is to say Flinn is a horrible person who deserves our contempt. Good Lord, if we threw every adulterer in jail, who’d be left to run our cities, states and the country? But Flinn clearly does not deserve an honorable discharge. Those are reserved for people whose service “has met or exceeded expectations.” I hardly think disobeying direct orders, fraternizing and adultery exceed expectations. (Again, we may think these are antiquated rules, but they’re the ones Flinn willingly agreed to follow.) Instead, she’s getting a “general discharge under honorable conditions,” which means “significant negative aspects of the member’s conduct or performance of duty outweigh the positive aspects of the member’s performance.” It’s not as if they’re sending her to prison, which of course, they never really wanted to do.
This is not a case of a woman persecuted because of her philandering. It’s a case of an officer who violated regulations, had a chance to repent and continue with her service, but who then chose to lie and disobey orders. If politicians and the public feel the rules don’t make sense, they should work to change them. But bending them at this stage of the game simply because of Flinn’s gender would not further women’s rights. If we want equal treatment we have to face the music just like everyone else.
Kris Henry’s column appears in the Daily every Thursday. She welcomes comments via e-mail at [email protected]
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