Academic journal article Military Review

Engaged Leadership: Linking the Professional Ethic and Battlefield Behaviors

Academic journal article Military Review

Engaged Leadership: Linking the Professional Ethic and Battlefield Behaviors

Article excerpt

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

ETHICAL BEHAVIOR OF battlefield soldiers is paramount in counterinsurgency and stability operations, where the support of the local populace is vital to mission success. Despite their rarity, ethical lapses even in the lowest tactical echelons can detrimentally affect the strategic mission. A single incident can set back the success of an entire unit. (1) Indeed, it can even set back an entire coalition, as was evident at Abu Ghraib and Haditha. (2) Recently, similar events took place in Afghanistan when five members of an Army Stryker brigade allegedly murdered three Afghan civilians. (3) These events resurrect memories of Vietnam when soldier misconduct was considered more prevalent, as seen in major events such as the My Lai Massacre, but also in frequent drug use, fragging of unit leaders, and poor treatment of noncombatants. (4) Events in Iraq revived a debate over the ethics of our soldiers, and whether these events represented isolated incidents or an ethical culture problem that might indicate a failure of Army Values and post-Vietnam initiatives to counter the problems of the "hollow Army." (5)

On the surface, the recent moral failures appear to be isolated incidents. However, the repetitive combat deployments and asymmetric operational environments our Army faces now provide ample opportunities for future behavioral and ethical lapses to occur, as soldiers must make split-second decisions that affect the safety of their units and the local populace. Preventing ethical lapses requires a change in unit culture in which soldiers hold each other accountable to high standards of conduct and performance. This culture change can only occur through direct leader involvement via engaged leadership that fosters proper behavior and discourages inappropriate actions. This article offers an overview of factors that produce soldier misconduct, reviews the ethical climate in Iraq, presents a course of action to address battlefield ethics, and discusses how engaged leadership improves ethical performance on the battlefield.

Misconduct in the Operational Environment

During deployments, soldiers face a myriad of physical and mental stressors, both environmental and psychological. Environmental stressors include harsh climates, difficult terrain, constant noise, and the continuous threat of physical harm. Psychological stressors include sleep deprivation, fatigue, and illness or injury. Mental stressors include dealing with organizational dynamics and information flow gaps, performing duties outside one's normal area of concentration, and being separated from friends, family, and support groups. Taken together, these factors are termed combat and operational stressors. Soldiers respond to them with adaptive or maladaptive reactions along a continuum of physical and psychological adaptation. (6) Adaptive responses lead to increased cohesion, mission effectiveness, and heroic acts, but maladaptive responses take the form of either misconduct behaviors or combat operational stress reactions.

Combat operational stress reactions are defined as "expected, predictable, emotional, intellectual, physical, and/or behavioral reactions of soldiers who have been exposed to stressful events in combat or military operations other than war" and include physical, emotional, cognitive and behavioral responses. (7)

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

In contrast, misconduct includes a myriad of behaviors that range from shirking or malingering, alcohol use in theater, or significant violations of the Laws of Land Warfare. (8) Of key interest in stability operations are the soldiers' interactions with noncombatants. Current military doctrine and research is unclear about the factors that lead soldiers toward misconduct during such interactions. Some experts think that posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) leads to misconduct behaviors. (9) However, recent research indicates that the presence or absence of PTSD is not an influential factor in soldier attitudes toward noncombatants. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.