Academic journal article Military Review

The Trust Lapse: How Our Profession's Bedrock Is Being Undermined

Academic journal article Military Review

The Trust Lapse: How Our Profession's Bedrock Is Being Undermined

Article excerpt

WHEN AMERICAN GROUND forces' direct involvement in Vietnam ended in 1973, some soldiers returned home to be disparaged and forgotten by their fellow citizens. Many of the soldiers who were denigrated for their involvement in the war were compelled into service because of the draft. Public trust in the Army was at a low, with many blaming the military for the war as much as they blamed the civilian policymakers whose orders the military was carrying out. (1) Racial divisions among soldiers, rampant drug use, and poor leadership persisted in the Army even after completion of the war. Recognizing the need for major changes, the Army became an all-volunteer force and made major modifications to its training methods, weapons systems, and doctrine.

Then chief of staff of the Army Gen. William Westmoreland began the task of repairing the troubled Army of the Vietnam era. The focus of his reforms was what he termed "professionalism" which involved making improvements in training, education, and individual and organizational competence. (2) Over the next two decades the Army worked hard to improve its professionalism, and by the 1990s, the Army had established itself as one of the country's most respected professions. Fundamental to this rise in the Army profession was the establishment of trust--trust between the Army and the American people, and trust within the Army between soldiers and their leaders. As we contemplate the future of the Army profession into 2020 and beyond, we must examine the current state of trust that exists in our profession. I argue that the trust our Army has worked so hard to build has been diminished over the past dozen years of war, and we must stop that erosion before it undermines the force.

Numerous Army leaders have recognized the need to refocus and retrain our force in what it means to be a member of the Army Profession. The Profession of Arms Campaign conducted by Gen. Martin Dempsey in 2011, formally began this discussion. (3) With the war in Iraq now complete, and the war in Afghanistan seemingly coming to an end, now is the time to resolve our professional shortcomings before it is too late. There is nowhere better to start than with the bedrock of our profession--trust.

The Importance of Trust

The chief of staff of the Army, Gen. Raymond Odierno, refers to trust as the sine qua non, or the essential component, of our Profession of Arms. (4) Army doctrine defines trust as "assured reliance on the character, ability, strength, or truth of someone or something." (5) In order for our profession to be effective, trust must exist between soldiers, between soldiers and their leaders, and between the Army and the nation. This trust is not simply given to us by virtue of putting on a uniform, but rather it is earned by becoming experts in our profession and demonstrating the moral courage that appropriately reflects the values of the American people. The trust our Army Profession has earned is not something we take for granted. Our history allows us to reflect upon times when our profession was not in high regard. We do not want to return to those times, nor do I think we are necessarily in danger of that, but as professionals we should aspire to obtain the highest levels of trust possible, both internal and external to our Army. Any degradation of this trust, no matter how small, can be harmful. Although marginal changes due to what might be considered "isolated incidents" may seem insignificant, over time the cumulative effect will take its toll.

A decline in the trust between soldiers and their leaders diminishes the Army's effectiveness. As Gen. Robert Cone has written, "If our trust as leaders is lost with our subordinates, we cannot effectively lead and will ultimately fail in our mission." (6) Soldiers who do not trust their leaders are primarily compelled to follow orders because of fear of consequences. This is dangerous for any organization, particularly one that is in the business of fighting wars. …

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