Apache case ex­poses decades of mil­i­tary mal­prac­tice

The China Post - - COMMENTARY -

The on­go­ing Apache scan­dal has be­come the top news in Tai­wanese me­dia over the past week, af­ter first be­ing ex­posed to the public late last month.

It all started with four pho­tos posted by lo­cal TV per­son­al­ity Janet Lee ( ) on her Face­book page on March 29, in­clud­ing one of her in the cock­pit of an AH64E Apache, one of Tai­wan’s most ad­vanced attack he­li­copters, which is sup­posed to be off lim­its to the gen­eral public.

It was later re­vealed that the pho­to­graphs were taken dur­ing a tour ar­ranged by Lt. Col. Lao Nai-cheng ( ), the deputy head of a he­li­copter squadron in Taoyuan un­der the Army Avi­a­tion Spe­cial Forces Com­mand, where the Apache he­li­copters are based.

Lao was found to have taken a group of peo­ple, in­clud­ing Lee, her rel­a­tives and friends, and even some for­eign na­tion­als, to see the Apaches at their base in Long­tan on March 29 with­out un­der­go­ing due pro­ce­dures or ap­proval from his su­pe­ri­ors.

In a typ­i­cal re­sponse to such a cri­sis, the R.O.C. Army orig­i­nally at­tempted to limit the im­pact of the scan­dal by pun­ish­ing only a few of­fi­cers for their neg­li­gence.

But with more me­dia at­ten­tion, it later turned out that this in­ci­dent might not have been the first time Lao ar­ranged such a trip to a re­stricted mil­i­tary base for se­lect civil­ians.

It was also later found that Lao had not re­turned a NT$2 mil­lion Apache flight hel­met af­ter a train­ing mission last Oc­to­ber but rather had worn it as part of a Hal­loween cos­tume at a party at his home.

Lao has been suspended and is un­der in­ves­ti­ga­tion for his al­leged role in the case. But the in­ci­dent has since snow­balled into an even wider scan­dal that has ul­ti­mately led to the mil­i­tary launch­ing a full-scale re­form on tight­en­ing mil­i­tary dis­ci­pline.

Sev­eral se­nior mil­i­tary of­fi­cials, in­clud­ing Chief of the Gen­eral Staff Gen. Yen De-fa ( ) and Army Com­man­der Gen. Chiu Kuo-cheng ( ) were also pun­ished over the in­ci­dents.

The scan­dal has been drawing wide­spread me­dia crit­i­cism and public scru­tiny over the loose se­cu­rity within Tai­wan’s mil­i­tary that could jeop­ar­dize na­tional se­cu­rity.

How­ever, The China Post be­lieves that the in­ci­dent has also ex­posed decades of mal­prac­tice in the na­tion’s mil­i­tary; namely, that some rules are not ap­plied to some “priv­i­leged per­son­nel,” as was ap­par­ently the case with Lao.

Widely con­sid­ered to be a ris­ing star in the Army Avi­a­tion Spe­cial Forces Com­mand, Lao, 40, flu­ent in English, is one of the few seed in­struc­tors the Tai­wan mil­i­tary sent to the U.S. to un­dergo train­ing in fly­ing the Apache he­li­copters in 2012.

Born into a mil­i­tary fam­ily, Lao’s fa­ther was a for­mer Army deputy chief of staff.

His spe­cialty in train­ing and fam­ily back­ground meant he was seen as a fu­ture star in the Army and a popular fig­ure who may have been en­ti­tled to cer­tain priv­i­leges in the Army Avi­a­tion Spe­cial Forces Com­mand.

This could also ex­plain why he was able to take civil­ians onto the mil­i­tary base to take a closer look at the sup­pos­edly off-lim­its chop­pers with­out un­der­go­ing due pro­ce­dures or first gain­ing ap­proval from his su­pe­ri­ors.

This is all part of the so-called un­writ­ten mil­i­tary rules whereby some reg­u­la­tions may not ap­ply to cer­tain priv­i­leged in­di­vid­u­als.

That is also why dur­ing a re­view meet­ing held by the De­fense Min­istry on mil­i­tary dis­ci­pline on Wed­nes­day, De­fense Min­is­ter Kao Kuang-chi said he would call on the mil­i­tary to re­in­force dis­ci­pline, say­ing: “the cul­ture of giv­ing pref­er­en­tial treat­ment” to a cer­tain few must be erad­i­cated.

The lat­est scan­dal, though se­ri­ously dam­ag­ing the im­age of the R.O.C. Armed Forces, does have its mer­its in call­ing public at­ten­tion to such un­writ­ten rules in the mil­i­tary that need to be amended, and the sooner the bet­ter.

The China Post sin­cerely hopes that the scan­dal can ul­ti­mately be­come a turn­ing point for Tai­wan’s mil­i­tary so that it can con­tinue to move in the right di­rec­tion for the ben­e­fit of the na­tion.

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