#32 The Chicken or the Egg

"Competency and moral responsibility thus emerge as the defining characteristic of the professional Soldier, particularly in his role as combat commander"

Lieutenant Colonel Paul R. Viotti

I'm not sure how it has happened, but it seems as if each week when I'm thinking about what to write, I come across an article or blog posting or some other piece that reinforces - usually in a much more literate fashion - those points I have been trying to make throughout my writings. There has also been a larger generalized theme that the Army has a critical need to start thinking about the holistic development of the warrior rather than simply a concentration on the X's and O's of tactical warfare. I have read article after article that states that we need to start educating our leaders versus simply training them. We have to find a way to inculcate the Warrior Ethos and Army Values into the person. We need to create (or recreate) the warrior class and to see that as a noble calling. One that can be likened to a religious order in many ways - a servant of the country; an individual calling to willfully set aside personal gain; an acknowledgement of an elevated sense of responsibility to the greater national good.

This week I came across an article in the Nov/Dec issue of Military Review. It's title is "Competency vs Character? It must be both!", by Lieutenant Colonel Joe Doty and Major Walter Sowden. In it, the authors posit that the amount of time and the manner in which we train values and ethics to our Soldiers and junior leaders is having a direct result in the lack of character judgment and moral authority that is appearing on the battlefield. The article begins with the radical idea of no longer having any type of chain teaching program for such things as Equal Opportunity, Prevention of Sexual Harassment, the Law of Land Warfare etc, but to make those teachings the underpinning for all other training we conduct. The authors submit that there is a "Competence versus character" mismatch as evidenced by the amount of time in training dedicated to each In a study of various ROTC programs, they found that "90% of the curriculum focuses on developing competency while less than 10% concerns character education. Additionally, only 5% of Training and Doctrine Command instruction in both the Officer and Non-Commissioned Officer Education System focuses on ethics and leadership."

Later in the article, the authors relate comments from 12 former Battalion or Brigade commanders they interviewed who have led Soldiers in combat since 9/11. Asked about the Army's moral and ethical training, these commanders all expressed frustration at how little time is spent helping to imbue the essential behaviors necessary to uphold the Army's covenant with the country. [On a personal note, the article mentions an interview with a battalion commander - not by name - related to the Iraq incident in OIF 05-07, which has become such a large part of my personal journey. That battalion commander was involved in the 15-6 investigation regarding the rape of a 14 year old Iraqi girl and the murder of her and her family by US forces:]

"A battalion commander in Iraq, who was involved in an Article 15-6 investigation on the circumstances leading up to an instance of kidnapping and gruesome death, stated that it would take a “special commander” to have prevented this unfortunate incident (because of the derogatory climate that existed in the unit following the highly publicized rape and murder of a young Iraqi girl). When asked if the Army has such “special commanders,” he responded, “yes, but only very few"."

So, what comes first, tactical training in the art of modern warfare, or the need to inculcate Soldiers and leaders with the value systems and ethical decion making skills necessary to maintain moral authority? Or, as the authors suggest, can they both be accomplished at the same time?

Throughout this blog, I have continuously called for a return to Soldier centered development rather than through-ut based, "check the block", rote memorization training. I have indicated that the very manner we currently prepare Soldiers for combat is in many ways the essence of the problem. By not educating and provoking individual development we are simply reinforcing to them that all we value is cursory memorization and assembly line training solutions. This is true for basic skills training such as marksmanship or first aid, it is represented in the behavioral issues we are facing, and it is demonstrated by the sheer volume of 'cultural awareness' training that we require Soldiers to sit through. The way we train, coupled with the behavior patterns and expectations and moral proclivities of the citizens we take into the organization has created most of the problems we face. For example, if one of the Army's stated values is Respect, how is it that sexual assault among service members is on the rise? How can the institution claim Integrity when weekly we here of another investigation into potential war crimes committed by Soldiers? Because we hand out a Values card, and hold a one hour block in a classroom, we believe that each Soldier will then automatically understand,and internalize these attributes, and their attendant behaviors.

We recruit Soldiers from society. We recruit individuals. People with individual moral and ethical characteristics derived from the families and communities in which they were raised. In and of itself, this has no particular positive or negative value. We cannot say authoritatively that any one generation is 'better' or 'worse' from a morality standpoint than a previous one. They are simply different. A lot has been said about "The Greatest Generation", those who fought and won WWII and in the process liberated Europe and secured democratic freedoms for millions of people. That generation of Citizen-Soldiers has been set as the standard bearer for the country and those in the profession of arms. It should be remembered however, that this is the same generation who did not ensure those freedoms for our own minorities and oppressed. Conversely, the 60's are often characterized as a generation of pot smoking, draft dodging hippies who took drugs, enjoyed free love and cast aside the moral bearings of their parents and grandparents. It is this generation however, that did begin to pressure the country to face it's moral and ethical shortcomings in the treatment of it's own citizens. Can we say that one is any better than the other? Is defeating Hitler and Stalin and the tyranny they represented any better than ensuring equal rights for blacks and women?

In order to instill any sort of value system in any organization - a business, a religious society, an army - you have to first ensure that the members understand quite clearly the singular importance of the values and how they form the larger behavioral underpinnings of the organization. They must be given the opportunity to test their existing behaviors against the organizations norms and then given the chance to develop those traits that are in keeping with the ideals of the organization. For an army, those tests must occur in the preparation for, and execution of, the violence of combat. Without a well developed strength of character, and a universal understanding of the purpose and intent of the army, combat operations are nothing more than gang warfare writ large. The Bloods and the Crips can carry out a military style operation. The Mafia has a well developed sense of loyalty. The key difference is the purpose for which we will, or will not, engage in the bloody contest.

I believe that we cannot separate tactical education from ethical education and that both must be continuously tested in order to develop leaders who become true servants to both those they lead and the Army as a whole.

As always, I look forward to your comments.


  1. Fen,

    I agree with your blog and the in some respects that it does indeed take a special commander to lead these troops to a new level and look at the holistic of the soldiers needs. That being said most of them check the block. We also need to look at the leadership of commanders and SGM's that get away with a lot of immoral and/or other problems that get swept under the rug. Unfortunately, the things that happen with these leaders are usually known about by the soldiers and these soldiers know that the command is getting away with "murder", so to speak. I applaud your blog and read it religiously. Thanks for having it out there and linking articles to it we can also read.

  2. Thanks for the reply. I appreciate the comments. I think the issue here is how can we instill a value sytem in Soldiers that is not brought to them in a 'classroom' type setting? The point of the article, for me, was that in order to build a value-based Soldier, the values have to be part and parcel of every action they take. As far as moral transgressions or rules that are applied differently for 'leaders' than they are for Soldiers, I have 2 thoughts. First, if the 'leader' remains mindful not to be a hypocrite, then they will apply the same rules to themselves as they do to their Soldiers. Something that we do not often do as seniors believe they are entitled to different treatment than their subordinates. Second, I think that sometimes Soldiers forget that just because a 'leader' doesn't recieve an Article 15, doesn't mean that there hasn't been action taken. You may never see my report card, but one trangression could be the end of my entire career. We had that happen this year with a Command Sergeant Major who's career was ended bcause of an act of stupidity. His Soldiers may never have known it happened, but that doesn't mean it didn't have an effect. He was supposed to take a very important position on Post, and now will retire instead. The point of this post was to see that in order to build a 'warrior class', you have to develop moral strength and courage, harness the aggression, couple it with compassion and develop a person who becomes acservant of the nation. Without it, you are only creating a mob.

  3. Point taken, and I agree. This is should be how we need to take action and make it happen. Hopefully the leader's in Washington and those in leadership positions everywhere read the article and take the initiative to teach our young soldiers these lessons.