Advancing the Army: Professional Military Ethic

By Casey, George, W., Jr. | Joint Force Quarterly, July 2009 | Go to article overview

Advancing the Army: Professional Military Ethic


Casey, George, W., Jr., Joint Force Quarterly


Today, our Army faces two broad challenges: restoring balance to a force stretched and strained by almost 8 years of war, and adapting to the anticipated demands of 21st-century conflict. Repeated deployments to Afghanistan and Iraq have placed enormous burdens on leaders and Soldiers. In the near future, the strains stemming from the frequency and complexity of such operations will likely remain. We expect the coming decades to be characterized by persistent conflict--protracted confrontation among state, nonstate, and individual actors increasingly willing to use violence to achieve political and ideological ends. The realities of this era will continue to test our leaders as they operate among the people in complex environments. Here, moral-ethical failures, even at the lowest levels, have strategic implications.

As the character of conflict in the 21st century evolves, the Army's strength will continue to rest on our values and our ethos. The actions of our leaders, especially our junior leaders, must remain true to those values. Success may hinge on decisions they make in ambiguous, time-sensitive situations. At the very least, their collective actions will go far toward shaping the outcome of operations. Some indicators suggest that we have more work to do. For example, a 2006 Army study found that 40 percent of Soldiers surveyed would not report a comrade for committing a potential war crime.

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Most of our Soldiers do the right thing time and again under intense pressure, but we must maintain our high ethical standards--a key source of our Army's strength--throughout this era of persistent conflict. In October 2007, we chartered the Army Center of Excellence for the Professional Military Ethic (ACPME) to ensure that our core values and ethos remain strong in the face of repeated deployments and the challenges of modern, complex battlefields. This past spring, ACPME assumed formal responsibilities for the full scope of doctrine, organization, training, materiel, leadership and education, personnel, and facilities as they affect the professional military ethic and character development for the Army at large. I selected the United States Military Academy at West Point as the Center of Excellence because it has served as the wellspring of professional Soldier values for more than 200 years. Today, over 80 percent of the faculty at West Point has combat experience. Instructors can draw on this experience as they educate leaders of character who will be able to meet the challenges of a complex operational environment. More broadly, ACPME will make an Army-wide contribution as it explores the moral and ethical foundations of the profession of arms.

Our professional military ethic is the system of moral standards and principles that define our commitment to the Nation and the way we conduct ourselves in its service. In part, we articulate the professional military ethic through Army values, the Warrior Ethos, the noncommissioned officer's creed, the Soldier's creed, and oaths of office. Yet the full meaning of the professional military ethic extends beyond these beliefs and norms. More implicit aspects of our rich history and culture influence our moral compasses as well. ACPME will assist our leaders and institutions in articulating this ethic and in sustaining the future moral-ethical health of America's Army.

This initiative is an Army-wide effort reaching across commands, the Army schools system, and the operating force to capture existing expertise and promulgate professional military ethic resources for our Army. In partnership with other Army organizations, ACPME will provide a number of tangible benefits to the Service: curriculum and courseware for formal training on the professional military ethic; publications and scholarly research on topics pertinent to Army values and the warrior ethos; junior leader developmental products; train-the-trainer courses and leader training; and outreach through a number of conferences, seminars, and forums. …

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