Magazine article Joint Force Quarterly

Identity in the Profession of Arms

Magazine article Joint Force Quarterly

Identity in the Profession of Arms

Article excerpt


When we think about the nature of our profession and about ourselves as individual members of that profession, there are aspects that surround us as individual military professionals, and there are aspects that are inside us as individual military professionals. The former include ethos, culture, and meaning; the latter center on identity. What surrounds us transforms what is in us. Thus, ethos, culture, and meaning give us our identity.

We use the word ethos all the time, but it is well to think for a few minutes about the words we throw around. The etymology of ethos and ethic is interesting because the e-t-h in Greek set up the words for ethos, ethic, and, of course, ether and ethereal. They all go to a notion of the air around us, of what we breathe, of the atmosphere. As an example, let us take the word ether. In the old days, prior to the 17th century, ether was considered to be that space that informed and shaped the galaxy, stars, planets, and gods. It was a frame of reference for all that people believed in. Indeed, that then points us to ethos, ethic, and the ethereal nature of thinking. What is that rarified air around us in our atmosphere that shapes what we believe and the way we believe?

For military professionals, the air that surrounds us and that we breathe is our culture, and culture drives us to meaning. We believe in Service culture--Navy culture, Army culture, and so forth. Though we are all members of the Armed Forces of the United States, there are things that make each of our Services distinctive. The book The Armed Forces Officer uses the formulation E Pluribus Unum to depict how out of our several Services--and Service cultures--we have become one armed force of the United States. I am a Sailor, and from my earliest years in the Navy, I was imbued with and took onboard the culture of the U.S. Navy; it is the air I breathe--salt air, perhaps.

This culture gives us meaning--what it means to be a Sailor, what it means to be a member of the Armed Forces of the United States. For all of us in leadership positions, perhaps especially for those of us in the business of professional military education and training, this comes down to what and how we teach, and how we learn, and how we transmit to those around us in our profession what we say, what we believe, and ultimately, and perhaps most importantly, who we are.

Transmitting belief and culture is fairly basic. How that belief and culture are then understood, interpreted, translated, internalized, and applied--that is, put into practice--can be complicating and complicated. Meaning is essential and significant both personally and culturally. Leaders set the tone for the culture of their organizations. Meaning of the community, no matter how defined, becomes essential for interconnectedness, for bonding, and for understanding. It all has to do with the relationship between the organization and the individual. What does the Navy mean to me? What does it mean for me? Meaning becomes essential as a reference point for integrity in all its parts and in all its definitions. Meaning serves to define authenticity and can be both the inspiration and an aspiration. Understanding meaning can also give coherence to our actions.

Leaders matter. And it is our leader, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, who has been asking us to think about what we have become over time. He began his time as Chairman by articulating a set of beliefs. Why is this important? Because cultures are set by leaders and what they believe, and what they instill in us helps mold us. Cultures are about belief. In this all-volunteer military and in this precious democracy, our people will draft or walk or march away from us if our culture and our beliefs are misaligned, misguided, misinterpreted, or misused. If we are not clear about who we are, how can the people we serve understand who we are? …

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