The Army's New Center of Excellence for the Professional Military Ethic

By Doty, Joseph; Sullivan, Pat et al. | Army, December 2007 | Go to article overview
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The Army's New Center of Excellence for the Professional Military Ethic


Doty, Joseph, Sullivan, Pat, Chudzik, Rich, Army


In Iraq and Afghanistan, it is very difficult to distinguish between the good guys and the bad guys. Oftentimes, after taking potshots at you, insurgents will attempt to blend back in with the local populace. Also, after an ambush, they will do the same thing if they are in a city. Think about a firefight, especially an ambush. Someone with a weapon just tried to take your life. Your heart rate is already through the ceiling and your adrenaline is pumping. At that time, you can easily tell yourself that you don't care what someone thinks because he isn't out here being shot at. You can rationalize all of your actions following a firefight in that manner if you let your emotions get the best of you. This is not the trademark of a professional. It is difficult, but it is your job to remain calm and professional both under fire and after fire.

Platoon leader, 82nd Airborne Division

Given the complexities of today's operational environment (from the tactical to the strategic levels of war), specifically with its morally ambiguous nature, there is a need to accelerate the development and sustain the moral and ethical fiber of our officers, noncommissioned officers (NCOs) and soldiers. The day-to-day operations of the counterinsurgency environment are being conducted at the platoon and lower levels. Consequently, the role of the strategic corporal is falling on the shoulders of our lieutenants and junior NCOs. To better prepare them for their roles in this dynamic condition set, we must first reevaluate the curriculum, depth and timing of our military education system and our officer producing schools. An operational argument has surfaced to introduce and inject into ongoing training events more moral and ethical education and training from the beginning stages of leader development. It is critical and timely that our young leaders have a solid educational foundation to carry them through today's demanding scenarios. This foundation can be achieved through our officer and noncommissioned officer education systems and precommissioning schooling.

At the service level, for example, some of the moral and ethical failures on the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan are formalized into detailed vignettes that can be used in the moral and ethical education of soldiers and leaders. Over the past few years, moral and ethical failures (Abu Ghraib, Haditha, Mahmudiya and others) during this protracted conflict have been exploited to our detriment-both tactically and strategically. Clearly, the need exists to formalize lessons learned from these failures and incorporate such lessons into classroom education and training.

In addition, the corrosive nature of the current conflict requires senior leaders to establish a positive moral and ethical culture and command climate in their units. The culture of a unit is set by its command climate. It is the way a unit conducts business. Commanders at all levels establish this climate by what they say and what they do.

Most moral and ethical failures over the past six years on battlefields around the world have occurred at the platoon or lower levels. In many cases, the facts surrounding these failures are not uncovered until an investigation is initiated. Coupled with the findings from the 2006 Mental Health Advisory TeamIV (MHAT-IV) report, in which more than 40 percent of the respondents stated that they would not turn in a comrade for a potential war crime and more than 30 percent of respondents stated that officers and NCOs were not making it clear not to mistreat noncombatants, it is apparent that command lapses exist in the moral and ethical climates of some units. Simply put, ethical behavior in units is a leadership issue.

The results from the MHAT-IV report should not be surprising to leaders; literature and research in developmental psychology shows that most young people 18-25 years of age are not at the cognitive developmental stages to be able to internalize and understand the idea that loyalty to the Constitution and country is more important than loyalty to friends, teammates and comrades in arms.

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The Army's New Center of Excellence for the Professional Military Ethic
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