This is a tale of two enlisted soldiers.
Over a 36-year career in the Army, Thomas Capel has exemplified professionalism. In 25 years, William Anthony Morrone Jr. has not.
Unfortunately, both will be entitled to the same post-retirement benefits in a system that served up anything but justice.
Morrone was convicted Wednesday of fraudulent enlistment under the Uniform Code of Military Justice. You see, while using his name, Morrone was kicked out of the Army and earned a less-than-honorable discharge. Such designation, regardless of time in service, would have prevented Morrone from receiving a host of benefits reserved for deserving veterans.
Not deterred, Morrone used his brother’s name and Social Security number to enlist. Over 25 years, Morrone was promoted to the rank of Sergeant Major —the top rank for an enlisted soldier, although the command to which a sergeant major is assigned varies in significance.
From the very beginning of Morrone’s covert operation to join the Army, he personally benefited from stealing his brother’s identity. Most recruits enter basic training as Private, or E-1 on a scale that goes up to E-9. Because his brother Gerald had a college degree, Morrone was awarded the rank of Private First Class.
In court, Morrone was supported not only by his brother but many soldiers who had served with or under his watch over more than two decades. That’s where the problem expands — this would have been a perfect opportunity for a military judge to throw the book at him, convict him of everything he’d done wrong and use it as an example for others still in the service.
Though it’s obvious Morrone was a solid NCO in certain aspects, what’s clear is that from the very beginning, he lacked the Army’s core values of honor and integrity. Integrity, as defined by the Army, means to “do what’s right, legally and morally.”
I can understand that oftentimes life presents scenarios that the line between legally and morally right are cloudy. This isn’t one of those times. Morrone had his chance to make it in the Army, was kicked out — and that should have been the end of the story. Instead, he fraudulently signed multiple government papers and contracts — each re-enlistment served as another lie — and continued to face legal and moral dilemmas throughout his military career.
Morrone also failed to tell the Army when he divorced his wife and when his son turned 21, both failures resulting in his collecting more money than what regulations permitted.
How can this man go on serving in a leadership capacity? And as a Sergeant First Class, Morrone is eligible to be a platoon sergeant or battalion-level NCO and supervise many other soldiers.
On the other side of the coin, there’s Capel. Capel, an Ellerbe native, retired last month under the pomp and circumstance of the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg. The ceremony was second to none, to borrow from the 2nd Infantry Division — everybody has a motto in the Army.
Capel followed the rules. He worked his way through the ranks. I won’t claim Capel to be perfect — who is, really? — but he upheld the core values of the Army to the best of his ability. And Morrone’s ability? It was shown time and again to simply not be good enough.
Upon retirement, Capel deserves the accolades that will come his way. He deserves to be recognized for his accomplishments. And here’s hoping Morrone fades away into the background, never to attend veterans’ services or memorials. He tarnished the image of the uniform. So if he hasn’t already, make him pay now.