By Lt. Col. Joseph Doty, Col. Pat Sullivan and Capt. Rich Chudzik
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 Team-IV (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. This developmental gap is magnified by the powerful emotional bonds that are built between soldiers in day-to-day combat.
Commanders send clear messages to their units by the way they do simple things, such as an accurate arms room inventory, an accurate material readiness report and timely and exact reporting of checkpoints. Commanders who give a wink and a nod to the importance of accurate (ethical) reporting set a command climate that is prone to failure. Broad guidance such as “kill every male above the age of 18,” although contextually correct, is certain to send the wrong message to young soldiers and leaders—especially because they are still in the early stages of moral and ethical development.
Clearly, there is a need for the military to establish and uphold standards for integrity and character given the nature of ambiguous conflict in a period of stress and overstretch. With the prolonged and asymmetric nature of the conflict against terrorism, the Army must formalize education and training programs to standardize the moral and ethical foundations of the profession of arms.
Army Chief of Staff Gen. George W. Casey Jr. recognized this requirement early in his tenure and recently announced plans for the U.S. Military Academy to serve as the Army Center of Excellence for the Professional Military Ethic (PME). The purpose of the Center of Excellence is to contribute directly to the Army-wide development of soldiers and leaders of character who can meet the moral challenges of a very complex security environment.
Our nation’s professional military ethic is the system of moral standards and principles that define our commitment to the nation. It is articulated through Army Values, the Warrior Ethos, the NCO Creed, the Soldier’s Creed and our oath of office—those norms and beliefs that guide our service.
The Center of Excellence for the Professional Military Ethic will assist in sustaining the future moral and ethical health of America’s Army.
This initiative, led by Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC), is an Army effort reaching across commands, the Army school system and the operational force to capture existing expertise and promulgate professional military ethic training resources to our Army. As the headquarters of the Center of Excellence for the Professional Military Ethic, West Point will provide a number of tangible benefits to the Army: courseware for formal training on the professional military ethic; scholarly research on topics pertinent to Army Values and the Warrior Ethos; junior leader developmental products; and outreach through a number of conferences, seminars and forums. It will work to:
• Integrate education, outreach and scholarly research.
• Conduct scholarly research on topics such as PME, ethics, law, behavioral science, leadership and social sciences.
• Support TRADOC in requirements analysis, as well as in doctrine, plans of instruction and text development.
• Transform attitudes and culture and resist desensitization in protracted war.
• Enhance strategic/critical thinking and promote continual assessment of PME environment.
• Leverage institutional experience and existing systems and create new knowledge.
• Develop leaders at all levels who can recognize morally ambiguous situations and apply appropriate decision-making skills.
• Provide high-quality technical knowledge networks that link leaders and exploit lessons learned.
• Provide a tactical information environment to support institutional and self-development training at home station.
Simply put, the U.S. Military Academy will provide a beacon for the sustainment of the professional ethos of Army leaders.
The U.S. Military Academy has served as a wellspring of the vir-tues and values of professional soldiers for more than 200 years; today more than 80 percent of West Point’s instructors are combat veterans, who can combine academic theory with the practice of arms through their own personal experiences. West Point is already providing the Army—field units, ROTC programs, individual leaders—with professional military ethics education and training resources. The resources available will grow as the Center of Excellence matures.
As the Simon Center chairman Gen. Fred Franks Jr., U.S. Army retired, has said, “The U.S. Army serves our nation. For more than six years, our nation’s Army has been fighting, with inspiring skill, courage and sacrifice, extremists and fundamentalists who are opposed to our freedoms and way of life. During that time, there has been an increasing velocity of change within the Army in order to adapt to stay out ahead of battlefield demands while simultaneously placing increasing operational demands on Army forces. Amid such change and demands, the Army aims to remain faithful to its enduring values, which seal the continuing trust it has with the American people, while accomplishing its complex battlefield missions. As part of the U.S. Army’s continuing assessment of its monitoring and strengthening of this trust and to ensure that value-based fabric aids the Army in not only leading change but also in meeting mission demands, the U.S. Military Academy stands prepared to assist as a center of excellence in this vital area of strategic importance to the advancement of our professional Army as a respected national institution, able to deliver mission accomplishment to the American people in this era of persistent conflict.”
The citizens of the United States expect nothing less than unwavering integrity, honor, courage, competence and professionalism from their Army. The Army’s new Center of Excellence for the Professional Military Ethic is a leap forward in the Army’s commitment to maintaining and strengthening the moral fabric of the profession.
LT. COL. JOSEPH DOTY currently serves as a professor of character development in the Simon Center for the Professional Military Ethic (recently named an Army Center of Excellence), U.S. Military Academy. He commanded the 1st Battalion, 27th Field Artillery (Multiple Launch Rocket System), V Corps Artillery, U.S. Army Europe. COL. PAT SULLIVAN currently serves as the deputy director, Simon Center for the Professional Military Ethic, U.S. Military Academy. Before that, he served as G-4, 82nd Airborne Division and commander, 782nd Main Support Battalion, 82nd Airborne Division (Operation Iraqi Freedom). CAPT. RICH CHUDZIK is currently on medical hold at the U.S. Military Academy. He was a rifle platoon leader in Iraq and a scout platoon leader in Afghanistan in the 82nd Airborne Division.