Throughout these writings I have taken much of my source material from documents written for the Strategic Studies Institute (It's URL is at the top of the page). Normally, if I'm not exactly sure what I want to write about, or my thoughts aren't fully formed yet, I'll dig around there and see if something catches my eye or provokes a thought pattern that helps more clearly define the disparate thoughts of that week. This week was no different, but it requires me to go backward in order to go forward.
On Monday evening, a Soldier who once worked for me and I keep up with on Facebook posted that "Suicide is the only option". It had been posted 8 minutes earlier when I read it and was consistent with less dramatic earlier posts that indicated that she was struggling with some issues that were seemingly out of her control. I immediately contacted the installation Police Department and a mutual friend to begin to try and locate her. After approximately 20 minutes, I was able to get in touch with her by phone, determine her location and go to her to ensure her safety. After another friend took her to the ER to be treated, I returned home, and called the Staff Duty in order to inform her leadership of what had transpired, and the actions I had taken, and why. Her 1SG was present at Staff Duty, but was talking with someone else when I called and could not take my call. I gave the Staff Duty NCO my phone number and requested the 1SG call me back. He did not.
The following morning I sent an email to the battalion commander outlining the events of the evening prior, my actions and my reasoning. I informed him that I had made an attempt to to talk with the 1SG, but that I had not heard back from him. A few hours later, the Company Commander called me to let me know what they were doing to assist the Soldier, and to thank me for helping her the evening prior. Toward the end of the conversation he told me that he would have the 1SG call me so that "Senior NCO to senior NCO we could close the loop." That phone call has not come.
Tuesday I taught a marksmanship class and Wednesday the students went to a training site to practice what they had learned. In the early afternoon one of them mentioned how low the morale was in their unit and outlined some of the reasons why. This lead to a lot of head nodding and agreement by the other students. They all agree that the morale in their separate units is low and that they - in many cases - have stopped caring about the larger purpose of their service and now view much of what they do merely as a job or contractual obligation.
Thursday evening on the drive home, I called my friend from the Monday incident to check in and see how she was doing. I explained my actions to her and expressed my confidence in her and the unit now that they were aware of her difficulties and issues. They have found her a counselor she is comfortable with and she has regularly scheduled appointments to work through her issues and get her life back on track.
Yesterday I met with D.C. and spent the afternoon having a great conversation. D.C. is part of the large installation team trying to find ways to reduce the number of crisis incidents on post. I first met her 3 weeks ago at the Battalion Resiliency Counsel meeting I spoke of in post 26 Our purpose yesterday was to see if there might be a helpful role for me in the larger installation effort. We spent the afternoon discussing a wide range of issues and reasons and possible solutions to some of the issues we are facing. A lot of coffee, even more cigarettes and a thoroughly enjoyable afternoon.
Throughout the week, the word 'trust' kept popping into my head. I'm beginning the think that the genesis of a lot of the issues we face throughout the Army are based on a loss of trust by the Soldiers in their leadership and their purpose. Now, that is an extremely generalized statement. Not every unit, nor every leader fits that mold. Everywhere you look, you can find young leaders - and seniors - who are truly caring for their Soldiers and doing everything they can to prepare for the deployment ahead. However, the rising tide of 'trouble indicators' i.e. suicides (attempted and completed), domestic violence, drug and alcohol abuse, arrests etc indicates that there is some larger ill-defined, underlying problem that we have failed to address. Not that extraordinary efforts and resources aren't being made available, but that for all that expenditure of energy, effort and care, we aren't really getting to the root of the issue.
And then yesterday I found a document at the SSI entitled "The Army's Professional Military Ethic in an Era of Persistent Conflict" published last month. ( http://www.strategicstudiesinstitute.army.mil/ )I highly encourage reading it, for it raises some interesting questions regarding the state of the 'ethic' of the Army today. On page 1 you will find the following quotation:
"Leadership is the potent combination of strategy and character. If you must be without one, be without the strategy."
General Norman Schwarzkopf
Further on in the document the authors point out the following with regard to character development discussed in FM 6-22, Leadership:
"Character, a person's moral and ethical qualities, helps determine what is right and gives a leader motivation to do what is appropriate, regardless of the circumstances or the consequences. An informed ethical conscience consistent with the Army Values strengthens leaders to make the right choices when faced with tough issues. Since Army leaders seek to do what's right and inspire others to do the same, they must embody these values." (italics added by authors) FM 6-22
The authors then state, "In fact, current Army doctrine leaves character development to the individual, specifying no role at all for the institution save for its leaders." This is followed by another quotation from FM 6-22.
"Becoming a person of character and a leader of character is a career-process involving day-to-day experience, education, self-development, developmental counseling, coaching and mentoring. While individuals are responsible for their own character development, leaders are responsible for encouraging, supporting and assessing the efforts of their people. (bold added by authors) FM 6-22
I spent a lot of the conversation with D.C. yesterday talking about this issue of trust. I can't prove it empirically, but I believe that there has to be a recognition by unit leaders (Company level and higher), that in many ways, we have lost the trust of our Soldiers and we must work very very hard to either gain or regain it if we want to sustain a professional Army. If you see the 'trouble indicators' as greater than average behavioral indicators of a larger problem, then it is not all that difficult to work from small to large. I don't trust my local leader or have faith in their ability to care, protect, and train me. That lack of trust leads to my demoralization because I feel as if I am going into combat or deploying with people who don't care about me. That leads me not to care about the organization that I serve in or its' ideals. That produces behavior that is outside the expected norm because I no longer have faith in the institution anyway. In fact, to demonstrate my lack of caring, I participate in behaviors or actions that are known to be inconsistent with the stated values of the Army. In plain language, I just don't give shit anymore. And, because we are not consistently reinforcing the professional Army ethic - and it's critical moral and ethical and value necessity in leader development training, the local leader does not posses the understanding of the professional Army ethic nor can they put it into practice at the local level - the exact spot where the Soldier in crisis is standing.
The monologue from SSI also spends some time looking at the Army ethic as an institution, and asks whether or not those ethical values have been subsumed in some ways by bureaucratic responses. In essence, the bureaucracy has created it's own ethic - or expected norm of behavior. Is the Army reinforcing the incredibly important moral and ethical value system that it talks about in FM 6-22, or is it merely paying lip-service to them on posters and handouts while creating yet another bureaucratic response to a crisis or problem. "Sir, in response to XYZ issue, we've created a new Task Force to study and recommend to you courses of action. However, we will need a budget, an office, 6 salaried employees and a health care plan before we can begin work. Additionally, Sir, we will continually fight turf wars with other agencies and as soon as we become the flavor of the week then we will fight to change our status from temporary worker to government employee thereby ensuring that we can push another PowerPoint briefing in front of you and your staff once a month so that you shortly you won't remember what the hell the purpose was for creating us in the first place and we will be firmly entrenched in the protective bureaucracy of the Army institution."
And we wonder why Soldiers have lost faith....(Sarcasm included by me)
Throughout the discussions on the installation regarding how we can reduce the number of incidents and better care for our Soldiers I routinely hear the question, "How can we get this to the lowest level?" And then looking at a slideshow produced by Big Army a few days ago, I saw a slide that depicted the different tiers and levels of care providers and resources available. As expected, the Tier 1 folks were Chaplains, Dr.'s, Behavioral Health Specialists etc. At the bottom of Tier 2 were 3 words...First Line Supervisor. And there is no one below them. They were the last in line. This implies that even in the way the institution makes it's own damn slide shows there is a fundamental lack of understanding of who the target audience is and why we need to work from the First Line Supervisor up, not the Commanding General down. The General has to set a visible moral and ethical tone - which I'm sure he does - has to ensure that it doesn't get diluted or changed by the various bureaucrats and sycophants who have a vested interest in continuing their current methods, and reach those who are actually charged with helping and caring and leading Soldiers. The First Line Supervisor.
Now for that trust to be gained or regained, the solutions offered to the Soldier in crisis have to make sense and be accepted by that Soldier. When I called my friend on Thursday I informed her why I took my actions on Monday night in order to help her understand them. From her perspective, she was a little embarrassed and angry that her personal inability to handle her issues was now a public matter. A totally understandable reaction. But, she also knows, understands and acknowledged that she needs assistance and as embarrassing as it is in the short run she has not lost her trust in me. In light of that, I was looking at another document the other day that is in a coaches guide for a concept called "Team of Leaders". There is a quote in there that says:
Leader Team Effectiveness depends upon 3 criteria:
1. Producing a team outcome (product or service) acceptable to whomever the leader-team is serving. (my thought: The larger organization serves downward to the individual)
2. A growth in leader-team capacity which in turn improves capacity of the organization.
3. A group experience which is satisfying and meaningful to members which improves confidence. (my thought: Soldier confidence is mainly based upon trust in their leaders and acceptance of unit norms of behavior)
While this particular document is aimed at Joint and Inter-Agency Strategic levels, the same rules apply to squads, platoons, companies and battalions. Soldiers must accept the expected behaviors and requirements for inclusion in the unit. Those expected norms - the Values and Ethics - must be demonstrated in action by the leadership (at all levels and consistently) which builds individual confidence and trust. The actions derived from the expected norms and behaviors must produce a greater operational capacity for the individual and the unit (mutual growth). Participation is organizations who demonstrate the Ethics and Values must produce an experience meaningful to the member which will increase their confidence in the unit.
If we look at the "trouble indicators" as evidence of a loss of trust and confidence and as rebuttal of the expected ethical norms and values, then it seems clear that what needs to be done is 1) Start educating the First Line Supervisors and junior leaders about the professional Army Ethic, what it is, why it is and how it strengthens and serves as the moral spinal column of the unit. 2) Consistently reinforce what the organization stands for in light of persistent conflict and the physical, emotional and spiritual drain it is taking on Soldiers. 3) Work from the bottom up, not the top down. and 4) Make sure that the bureaucratic ethic has not, cannot, and will not subsume the Army Value ethic of caring, supportive, and disciplined leadership.
As always, your thoughts are critical. The Army is certainly not the only organization to face these challenges and every industry has it's own work ethic that has an effect on how it progresses in light of unexpected challenges.