WEST POINT, N.Y. (Army News Service, July 31, 2014) – One of the hardest things a Soldier will face in his or her career isn’t necessarily the enemy. It might well be telling another Soldier that his or her behavior is ethically or morally wrong, said the Army chief of staff.
Gen. Ray Odierno shared his opening remarks with general officers and command sergeants major from across the components at the first CSA Army Profession Symposium, held here today and tomorrow.
The reason it’s so hard, he continued, is because Soldiers are deeply committed to each other.
“That’s integral,” he explained. “In combat, you have to depend on the person on your right and left. Your life is in their hands. But it’s also about being committed to the institution.”
Odierno then provided some hypothetical examples of why ethical dilemmas are so difficult to grapple with:
After returning from a deployment, Alpha Company takes the Army Physical Fitness Test. A certain sergeant is considered the best sergeant in the platoon. He served admirably in combat and always scored a perfect 300 on the APFT. He’s now up for promotion to staff sergeant.
But on this particular day, he scored a 240. That score will result in him not earning enough points for promotion to staff sergeant and the next opportunity for promotions may not be for a long time.
The platoon leader wants to look out for his Soldiers, particularly for this non-commissioned officer who did incredible things in combat. So he gives the sergeant a 300.
The platoon leader might get away with that but what about next time? Odierno asked, continuing with the example:
Down the road, that same platoon leader has become a battalion commander. He’s been bragging about his battalion and how well it’s been doing and how well it will perform at an upcoming National Training Center rotation.
But, the battalion ends up having a “lousy rotation.”
But instead of admitting as much, he gets his battalion certified “T-1, fully trained and ready for combat, yet everyone knows it’s not true.”
Two months later, that battalion deploys to combat and Soldiers are killed.
“Now your ethical dilemma is growing,” Odierno said, continuing:
Ten years later, he’s a general officer providing congressional testimony. Lawmakers are asking about the readiness of his division. He’s been told that the politically correct thing to say is “we’re ready to do whatever you ask.”
But, his division is lacking in training and modernized equipment. Yet, he tells Congress that they’re combat-ready.
“So the dilemma grows and grows and builds and builds,” Odierno said. “Once you start down that path, it becomes easier and easier to make those decisions.”
The ramifications of those decisions won’t necessarily “fall on you,” he said. “It will fall on those Soldiers put in harm’s way.”
The vast majority of Soldiers understand the importance of commitment to the institution as well as commitment to one another, Odierno said he believes, “but we can’t rest on our laurels.
“We have to have those discussions, about character, that’s who we are. Our character has to represent what our country stands for,” he continued. “It’s about doing what’s right when nobody else is watching.”
Citing another example — an actual one — Odierno recounted how an officer was brought in for counseling after a minor incident that occurred after hours.
The officer told his commander something to the effect of, “I’m in the Army nine to five and what I do afterward is my business.”
“That’s not the Army I know,” Odierno cautioned. “And that’s not the type of leaders the Army wants. It’s a 24-hour-a-day, seven-days-a-week job. You’re always representing this profession.”
An important part of this symposium, he said, is discussing the Army profession and how to more effectively inculcate ethics across the service.
Sgt. Maj. of the Army Raymond F. Chandler III, who spoke following Odierno’s remarks, said he seriously doubts the effectiveness of the Army’s ethical training delivery methods.
That delivery might take the shape of PowerPoint slides or briefings — check-the-block type training.
It has to be more than that, Chandler said.
“We need to have a culture shift,” he said. “People need to be passionate about this, and we all have to take on this responsibility.”
He noted that “young people are thirsty for leadership” and the method most effective for delivery of ethics training, he thinks, is through mentoring other Soldiers.
Chandler provided his own example of being mentored:
Back in the 1970s, he said his own moral compass wasn’t always oriented in the right direction and he wandered aimlessly from job to job, and his grades in high school were pretty dismal.
Then he saw the movie “Sahara,” starring Humphrey Bogart. In that movie, he said, Bogart and the men in his tank crew bonded and looked out for each other even as the going got tough.
“That taught me commitment,” and was the impetus for joining the Army and becoming a tanker, Chandler said.
In 1981, his first tank commander was Staff Sgt. Lou Tahini, an American Samoan and a Vietnam veteran, who “couldn’t read, but was a professional,” Chandler said, noting that the average grade level for reading in the Army at the time was eighth grade.
“He taught me everything I know about competence — how to operate that tank and deal death and destruction — and about commitment to that crew and the platoon,” Chandler said of his tank commander.
“He also taught me about character and what it means to be a person of character,” he continued. “He’s a big reason why I’m still in the Army today.”
In closing, Chandler said that same sort of mentorship has to continue. “Don’t allow this to die out.”