By Rick Rogers
DefenseTracker.com

In physics there’s a phenomena known as the Observer Effect in which the mere act of watching atoms and other sub-atomic matter actually changes their actions.

Crazy, right?

Sometimes this is attributed to scientific instruments altering what’s being measured. In other cases, however, the reasons why and how scrutiny changes everything aren’t so clear- cut.

The Observer Effect can also work with people. People being watched often behave differently than those who aren’t. No surprise there.

But can the Observer Effect affect military justice? Can the interest by the public in some cases ensure more justice and, conversely, less interest bestow less justice?

Those questions sprang to mind three times in recent months: Twice while attending military hearings at Miramar Marine Corps Air Station and Camp Pendleton and once under murkier circumstances.

Let’s take the last incident first.

A young Camp Pendleton Marine imprudently decided to air her opinion regarding a decision to transform the Marine Corps birthday celebration into a Navy-Marine Corps affair. An inopportune social media share put her in hot water with her commander, who then tried to separate her from the Marine Corps just days before the end of her service commitment in early December. The move threatened the Marine’s education and health benefits and therefore her post-military future.

A lawyer called the move an over reaction and feared a command-selected administrative separation board might railroad his client.

A half-dozen calls and emails later to Marine Corps headquarters making clear my interest in the case, it magically went away.

Then came the court-martial of Cpl. Ryan Stricklin, who the Marine Corps charged with drug use and sundry charges arising from an epic drug-fueled bender on July 4, 2011.

Stricklin suffers from Traumatic Brain Injury arising from a savage beating he allegedly took from a fellow Marine in 2008 that will substantially shorten his life. His brain injury also causes horrible seizures and impulse control issues.

The fact that he’s been assigned to Camp Pendleton’s Wounded Warrior Battalion for two years and is just now starting his Physical Evaluation Board process for discharge is a topic for another column.

On the day of Stricklin’s court-martial in November, a bag full of 27 medications from 11 different doctors were presented in court.

That media was in attendance OK, me was not lost on anyone.

The military judge allowed Stricklin to stay in the military and pursue his medical separation over the objections of the Marine Corps.

Then there was the case of Miramar’s Master Sgt. Duane Patton, involved in an ugly mid-October 2010 off-base incident involving alcohol, domestic violence, a suicide attempt in front of a child and the firing of a weapon that, combined, sent him to San Diego County jail for 5 months.

The senior enlisted Marine, with just over 18 years of service, was then hauled before a Marine Administrative Separation Board in September.

In the five months between the time Patton left County jail and stood before the military board, he had graduated military substance abuse and Post Traumatic Stress programs and entered the Veterans Treatment Court.

Still, the Marine prosecutor wanted to separate him from the service with an Other Than Honorable discharge and thus deny him and his family pension and medical benefits.

Ultimately, Patton’s attorney successfully argued that repeated misdiagnosis by military doctors over a three-year period caused a void in mental health care that led to the October 2010 incident.

All three cases ended with the service member getting the benefit of the doubt. What can never be known is whether the Observer Effect was in play.

What is undeniable is that three enlisted Marines sought help from the media because they feared what their own service would do to them without outside scrutiny.

The media as the patron saint of the enlisted man and woman?

Crazy, right?