On the fourth Sunday in July, John Lee Cockerham was here in his hometown for the baptism of his twin sons.
At his sons’ baptism, he told fellow worshipers that he hoped to instill in his children the values he had wrested from hardship.
Less than 24 hours later Major Cockerham was behind bars, accused of orchestrating the largest single bribery scheme against the military since the start of the Iraq war. According to the authorities, the 41-year-old officer, with his wife and a sister, used an elaborate network of offshore bank accounts and safe deposit boxes to hide nearly $10 million in bribes from companies seeking military contracts.
The accusations against Major Cockerham are tied to a crisis of corruption inside the behemoth bureaucracy that sustains America’s troops. Pentagon officials are investigating some $6 billion in military contracts, most covering supplies as varied as bottled water, tents and latrines for troops in Kuwait, Iraq and Afghanistan.
The inquiries have resulted in charges against at least 29 civilians and soldiers, more than 75 other criminal investigations and the suicides of at least two officers. They have prompted the Pentagon, the largest purchasing agency in the world, to overhaul its war-zone procurement system.
It's one thing to be corrupt and take bribes. But to do so in the midst of a war in which soldiers and scores of innocent civilians are killed on a daily basis -- basically sacrificing their lives for nothing -- this really has to be the lowest form of criminality.
If Cockerham is indeed guilty, we can only hope he instills none of his values in his children.
What a sad waste.