Wednesday, June 13, 2012

'Insuring' the Status Quo at Gold Star Wives

As a candidate for the Board of Directors of Gold Star Wives of America, I expected at least some resistance to the ideas that I propose, if only because I see such a pressing need for the organization to step up its advocacy on behalf of surviving spouses. That said, I didn't expect this kind of opposition. On the Gold Star Wives Facebook page, Gold Star Wives national outreach chair Rachel Clinkscale publicly scolded me for my platform, writing:
"You should not be posting GSW information on this Facebook (sic), Social Networking sites is (sic) not covered under the organizations insurance, only the monitored internet site are (sic) covered."
The claim that a candidate for the board of directors of an organization should not speak openly about what they would do if elected because of so-called "insurance" reasons is such ridiculous folly, I won't bother to examine it; I'll only ask what it seeks to achieve. Clearly Ms. Clinkscale is threatened by new ideas to improve Gold Star Wives. Clearly Ms. Clinkscale seeks to squelch discussion of new ideas.

Yet new ideas and thoughtful discussion is exactly what Gold Star Wives needs if it is to achieve its mission of advancing the cause of surviving spouses.

Ms. Clinkscale continues:
[Y]ou have some very ambitious plans like taking over the Chairman of the Board and National President's positions.
The claim that a member of the board of directors of an organization usurps the positions of the Chairman and National President by declaring an agenda that they seek the organization to adopt is equally ridiculous folly. As a board member, I would have only one vote with which to advance any proposal. Thus any proposal, be it mine, or anyone else's, will require the support of board members. Thus any proposal, be it mine, or anyone else's, will require the support of the majority of the members of Gold Star Wives.

Lastly, as national outreach chair of Gold Star Wives, Ms. Clinkscale wrote in the Gold Star Wives' March newsletter that "sometimes we don't agree with the life styles of the younger widow but it's not our place to judge them –  just love them."

Perhaps I should add a final point to my platform. I seek a more effective organization that welcomes new members. As such, I will not sit silently when people in charge of outreach patronize younger widows with such condescending statements as Ms. Clinkscale's.

So yes, I will work to change attitudes for the better. Our needs as surviving military spouses deserves no less.

UPDATE: My platform has been removed from GSW's Facebook page. Corinna Gibson-Ashmead deleted my post claiming in a message to me that "a good point was made that not everyone is on FB and therefore it is not an equal/fair platform presentation for all candidates." Ms. Gibson-Ashmead refused to indicate who made this "good point" and stated that she was acting out of her own independent judgement as Facebook administrator.

Needless to say, I disagree with this action. Rather than squelch discussion and debate, I think that GSW should be encouraging potential leaders to share their ideas for the future of the organization. Furthermore, there's nothing to say that members could not assist the less technically savvy in getting the word out. I, for one, would be happy to host any candidate's ideas on my website if it was thought that doing so would help serve the larger interest of the organization.

At root, we should be working to raise the bar, not lower it.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Siobhan Esposito For Board of Directors of Gold Star Wives of America

Gold Star Wives should be the nation’s preeminent organization when it comes to promoting the interests of surviving spouses and families. In that light, it is important that candidates for the board of directors indicate what they wish to achieve should they be elected to serve on the board.

My background is in public administration with a focus in nonprofit management; specifically, I am a handful of credits shy of having my Masters degree in this field from American University.

In the course of my studies, I have learned much about the hallmarks of effective nonprofit organizations. I have had the opportunity to study several nonprofits in depth, and learn from both their successes and mistakes. I hope to apply these lessons to making Gold Star Wives a more effective voice for surviving spouses.

As a member of the board of directors, I will propose the following nine points:

  1. I will work to help the board of directors improve the quality of its leadership of Gold Star Wives. I will work to insure financial and program accountability, promote peer review among the members of the board, and impose term limits.
  2. I will call for monthly board of directors meetings. I believe that an organization with thousands of members brought together because of a life-altering event as dramatic as losing a spouse requires active and ongoing board leadership.
  3. I will call for the hiring of a professional executive director to manage the day-to-day affairs of Gold Star Wives, to include legislative advocacy, coalition-building, fundraising, and member services.
  4. I will work to see that a parallel 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organization be created in addition to GSW's current organization. Gold Star Wives is currently incorporated as a 501(c)(4) organization under the Internal Revenue Code, which means that Gold Star Wives may lobby Congress to pass legislation, but private donations to the organization are not deductible on one's taxes. By creating a new 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organization to work alongside the existing organization, Gold Star Wives will dramatically increase its ability to raise revenue for its members’ benefit.
  5. As Gold Star Wives must increase its outreach and actively recruit younger widows and widowers from America’s more recent wars, I will work toward this recruitment by ensuring that GSW offer services that younger surviving spouses need in the face of their loss, and work to expand knowledge of our organization in the military community.
  6. As Gold Star Wives must be an easily accessible clearinghouse on information about government survivor benefits, I will work to have the national organization make experts available to members in areas such as grief counseling, financial planning, and child-rearing in the face of loss, just to name a few. Local chapters could then host these experts as guest speakers—adding value to the local chapters' meetings. At root, Gold Star Wives needs to dramatically increase the services that it provides to its members—and not leave it to other service organizations to fill in the gaps.
  7. As one of Gold Star Wives' primary purposes is effective government advocacy, I will work to ensure that the interests and needs of surviving spouses are respected by our nation's political leaders in Washington, and I will work diligently to expand GSW's grassroots voice.
  8. I will propose that our organization change its name to "Gold Star Spouses of America" to reflect the changing face of America, and the changing nature of military service.
  9. I will propose that membership in our organization be open to all surviving spouses of eligible military service members, regardless of the current citizenship of the surviving spouse. It would be horrifying to turn our backs on the surviving spouse of a fallen American hero merely because that surviving spouse was not American themselves—a needless slap in the face to someone who has already suffered enough. 
Ultimately, I will work to ensure that Gold Star Wives of America exists as an effective advocate for surviving spouses, and I ask for your help and support in this effort. Surviving spouses have given their husbands and wives in the service of our nation. In return, these survivors need and deserve a well-managed organization that is equal to the many challenges that they face in their lives. Through the death of my late husband, Army Captain Phillip Esposito, in Iraq in 2005, I have come to know many of these challenges personally, and I seek to stand with my fellow surviving spouses as we face them together.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Seven years ago today, US Army Staff Sergeant Alberto B. Martinez murdered my husband

Bonis nocet qui malis parcit
"He who spares the wicked injures the good." ~ Seneca

Seven years ago today, US Army Staff Sergeant Alberto B. Martinez murdered my husband, Captain Phillip Esposito.

Evidence presented at Martinez's court-martial in 2008 revealed that Staff Sergeant Martinez placed a claymore anti-personal mine in the window of my husband's office and detonated it, killing my husband and another officer. Further evidence revealed Staff Sergeant Martinez's motive; either to avoid his being removed from his position for cause, or to punish my husband for removing him, Staff Sergeant Martinez premeditatedly murdered my husband and the officer set to replace Martinez at his job.

Testimony at court-martial revealed that Staff Sergeant Martinez issued hundreds of death threats against my husband's life; nevertheless, none of these threats were acted upon by anyone in the 42nd Infantry Division of the National Guard and United States Army in which Martinez served, nor was my husband ever informed of these threats. If Staff Sergeant Martinez set and fired the mine that slaughtered my husband, Martinez's unindicted co-conspirators were the men and women of the 42nd Infantry Division who recklessly sat on their hands while Martinez spewed his venom.

At his court-martial, Staff Sergeant Martinez put forth no reasonable hypothesis of innocence; at least none that would convince me of his innocence in the face of the evidence presented against him, or compel me to demand further investigation and criminal charges levied against others. Thus it goes without saying that in my view, Staff Sergeant Martinez's freedom to commit murder and his subsequent acquittal by a military court-martial is an egregious error of justice.

But further, I have stood singularly alone in my public appraisal of the undisciplined military culture within the 42nd Infantry Division that set the stage for my husband's murder and of the defects in the military justice that set my husband's killer free.

That is not to say that private comments have not been made to me. For example, I received the message below just last week, ostensibly in honor of Memorial Day:

Mrs. Esposito, Please do not post my comments to your blog. I was a fellow Captain that worked with your husband at FOB Danger--he was a good officer and a good person. His professionalism was above that of other officers in his unit. I was in the next building over when your husband was killed. Although, it has taken me years to write to you, please know that few days pass that I don't think about how awful and unprofessional the culture was at FOB Danger during that time. Your husband paid the ultimate price for the failure of Army leadership. Please know that this Memorial Day, like every Memorial Day, I remember my fellow innocent officers that were murdered by their own. My thoughts will be with you over this weekend. With great respect and peace--A former officer and current Army wife living in Europe.

The author above freely admits that "[my] husband paid the ultimate price for the failure of Army leadership," but doesn't want her even anonymous comment published, lest apparently the word get out. Such was the caliber of the men and women my slaughtered husband had the misfortune of serving alongside in the 42nd Infantry Division of the National Guard.

Seven years after Phillip's murder, I still seek justice—I still seek my vindication. I still seek to show the cause of Phillip's death, and show how this cause was both needless and preventable. I still seek to prevent future slaughter, if only to serve as a living memorial to Phillip's memory. I still seek to raise our daughter with proof that her father and his family received the justice that they deserved. And I still seek to rebuild my life, and live free in a world no longer dominated by the taint of Staff Sergeant Alberto B. Martinez and his sundry apologists and defenders.