(Credit: U.S. Army/Spc. Tia Sokimson)

Addressing the Army’s Values-to-Virtues Gap

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Army Chief of Staff Gen. Raymond T. Odierno is leading a renaissance on the study of the Army profession. Col. Don M. Snider begins the discussion here with a thought-provoking piece on the fundamental tenets of what it means to be an Army professional. The Association of the U.S. Army, the U.S. Army’s professional association, is proud to partner with the U.S. Army Combined Arms Center and the Center for the Army Profession and Ethic on this first of a series of occasional articles on the Army profession.

—Gen. Gordon R. Sullivan, USA Ret.

President and Chief Executive Officer, AUSA

Please send comments to armymag@ausa.org

(Photo credit: U.S. Army/Spc. Tia Sokimson)



By Col. Don M. Snider, U.S. Army retired

The U.S. Army recently, for the first time in its history, defined itself as a modern military profession: “a unique vocation of experts certified in the design, generation, support and ethical application of landpower, serving under civilian authority and entrusted to defend the Constitution and the rights and interests of the American People” (Army Doctrine Reference Publication [ADRP] 1 The Army Profession). Though founded and structured as a government bureaucracy even before the American Revolution, since its professionalization in the late 1800s, Army leaders have sought to conform the institution’s character and behavior to that of a military profession. No less is required to execute the Army’s moral purpose and mission—the defense of our republic. Furthermore, only within a profession characterized by military expertise, honorable service, esprit de corps, stewardship and trust (ADRP 1) can volunteer soldiers and civilians serve and develop as Army professionals, not simply as jobholders.

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One of the characteristics of all professions, including the military, is that they regulate themselves and their individual members to ensure effective and ethical application of their expertise on behalf of those they serve. The means of this internal control is the profession’s ethic. A professional ethic provides the moral guidance necessary to build effective military teams that can respond to the nation’s needs, sustaining the trust—internal and external—essential to the Army profession’s existence. Thus, our professional ethic is composed of the moral obligations that we follow to govern ourselves and our Army as those uniquely entrusted with the application of lethal force on behalf of the nation.

The Army’s professional ethic, however, is not serving its intended purpose. We are observing a values-to-virtues gap: Army Values are not being sufficiently manifested in militarily virtuous behavior by Army professionals. What other way is there to explain repeated instances of moral failure by uniformed leaders of the profession; the lack of respect among Army professionals evidenced in rampant sexual assault and harassment within the ranks; the institution’s loss of trust by middle-level professionals; and the loss of respect by many in the public, including members of Congress?

So, how do we strengthen the Army’s approach to character development? The first step should be a thorough review of its content. Just what are the moral obligations of the profession and its individual professionals? Unfortunately, the Army has no single, concise statement of these obligations. Rather, it has many of them among its applicable statutes, oaths, creeds and codes. As noted last year when the new doctrine was published, there is a framework within which these many sets of ethical standards can be placed to produce some coherence among them. Nevertheless, the problem remains: There is no easily accessible, concise statement of the Army ethic that can serve as the motivational—indeed, inspirational—source of ethical behavior either for the profession or its individual members.

Some will respond, “But we have the seven Army Values.” True, but by all appearances, their influence on behavior is too weak to provide the strength of character needed in the Army’s leaders today. It is one thing to articulate what one values, but it is entirely another thing to transform those values into virtuous behavior by individuals and the institution. The record of recent moral failures is simply too great to continue to believe that the Army Values alone can motivate and inspire sufficiently after the initial stages of intense socialization to military culture. Since the Army has not researched this proposition, it remains a hypothesis only. My belief, though, is that it will not be falsified if researched.

Returning to the moral obligations that inhere within our ethic, we must understand that they are also inherent in the three identities of all Army professionals as described in ADRP 1: military expert, honorable servant and steward of the profession. We all can see ourselves in one or more of these identities every day. These obligations are best expressed as obvious moral truths, or ethical principles, that guide actions to be taken within the discretionary judgments that, under Mission Command, each Army professional must make daily. In this manner, the principles of the Army’s ethic are applicable to each Army professional at all times, regardless of which identity we may see ourselves in at the time. I suggest the following articulation of these critical principles:

* Loyalty. Our loyalty is to the moral purpose and mission of the Army profession—to defend the nation founded under the Constitution. Such loyalty extends upward through the chain of command to the Commander in Chief and downward in responsibility to all subordinates. We maintain an ethical environment wherein our principles are supported by our policies, programs and examples. We take care of our soldiers, civilians and families.

*  Honorable service. We are motivated by our calling to the noble service of our profession. Such service is marked by the virtues manifested when living the Army Values, virtues that enable us to prevail in combat. Our honorable, sacrificial service is more than a job. We will have no legacy except for the honorable nature of our years of service.

*  Leadership. Army professionals always lead by example. We maintain the personal attributes of physical, intellectual and spiritual fitness that are requisite to our profession and that serve as examples to be emulated.

*  Merit. As professionals, we police the Army and ourselves. Each professional receives all, and only, that which is merited by competence, character and commitment. We recognize the respect that is inherently merited by all human beings, whether in garrison or on the battlefield.

*  Stewardship. Competence in all fields of the Army’s expertise is a moral imperative. To avoid disastrous failure by the Army, we maintain the Army’s expert knowledge and our own continuous study and learning. Motivated by pursuit of the profession’s effectiveness within the best use of resources, we provide hard training, modern equipment and weaponry, and accountable leaders for all formations.

*  Duty. To pursue our duty, personal interests are subordinated to the requirements of the mission. We are prepared, if necessary, to lay down our lives and the lives of those we lead. When assigned a mission or task, its successful execution is our first priority, while accepting full accountability for our actions and orders.

Subordination. Under the Constitution, our profession is subordinate to civilian authority. We therefore do not involve ourselves or our subordinates in domestic politics or policy beyond the exercise of the basic rights of citizenship. We render candid and forthright professional judgments and advice when appropriate and eschew the role of the public advocate.

*  *  *

(Credit: U.S. Army/Spc. Tia Sokimson)
(Credit: U.S. Army/Spc. Tia Sokimson)

To be sure, agreeing on such principles will not quickly close the values-to-virtues gap and end the unethical behavior plaguing the Army profession, but they are the start point if the Army is to remain a military profession and not morph back into its alternative character of government bureaucracy. Following bureaucratic norms, better legal compliance with abstract values should not be the goal. Rather, professional identities and clear statements of the moral obligations that inhere within them (for example, “We lead by example always”) offer a better starting point for character development than a list of values in the abstract. Ultimately, virtuous behavior that is self-motivated and policed by both the individual and the institution is the goal. That will require revamping character development programs within the profession to educate, assess and evaluate the strength of character of Army leaders at each stage in their development.

Those reforms, however, can only start once we have debated and settled on the set of moral obligations we must fulfill every day to be a military profession in the first place.

* * * *

Col. Don M. Snider, USA Ret., Ph.D., serves as senior fellow at the Center for the Army Profession and Ethic, where he was the lead author during the production of Army Doctrine Reference Publication 1 The Army Profession. Previously, he served as distinguished visiting professor at the U.S. Army War College, and before that he was professor emeritus of political science at West Point.

2 thoughts on “Addressing the Army’s Values-to-Virtues Gap”

  1. I can see where COL Snider is going, however I am not convinced that one more list of rules, standards, or ethics, no matter how well articulated, really gets at the problem. Our current standards may not be centralized into one over-arching code, but they are pretty complete and well enough known. Those violating them are not doing so out of ignorance, or out of some illusion that they are doing the right thing – they are violating them because they want to, based on whatever temptation is their particular weakness, and because they believe they can get away with it.
    Dr. Robert Klitgaard’s classic formula for corruption, that Corruption = Monopoly + Discretion – Accountability, could with a little adjustment be applied to these personal failings as well. I would suggest that the Temptation to violate ethics = Opportunity + Discretion – Accountability. Given the environment of our workplaces, units, and operations, we cannot do much as a blanket measure regarding Opportunity…there will always be people in places where no one is looking. Discretion as well is inherent in our environments – if we expect initiative within commander’s intent, then our people at all levels have to be in a position to exercise discretion.
    So where can we as the Army successfully impact the equation? Like fighting corruption, one has to change the environment in which it occurs. The possibilities bear on the Accountability variable. First, it must increase enough that the perception of “I can get away with this” weakens or disappears. At present, what people both inside and outside the military tend to see is a culture in which offenders, especially very senior ones, in fact get away with their offenses. This is the number one place where the Army as an institution can make a real impact.
    Second, Accountability has to bo beyond just enforcement and punishment to get to an environment of intolerance. The West Point honor code uses the right word when it says “I will not lie, cheat, or steal, nor tolerate anyone who does.” We as a profession already know what is and is not within our standards – we have to get accustomed to rejecting from our midst those who choose not to live within those standards. I think the Army is already on the right track with regards to education, emphasizing workplace environment, and adjusting our evaluation system to reflect ethical behavior.
    We need to recognize that we are surrounded by a larger culture that is not in line with the kinds of ethics we want in our profession. We draw our recruits out of this very permissive culture, and our personnel are daily bombarded with messages from that same culture. Emphasis on our ethical standards, right from initial entry, must be consistent, clearly stated as a requirement of membership (not just an ideal), and of course enforced – because while enforcement is not the only answer, nor even the main component, what we do (or don’t do) in that area will either amplify or mute everything else.

  2. Dr. Snyder’s thoughts are dead-on. There have simply been too many instances of cronyism, turning a blind eye, leadership failures at the highest levels etc, to continue to believe that we do not need to re-look how the profession views itself in detail. I think one thing that could happen is that we remove every other code and creed and and replace it with something such as he outlined above. If I have an Oath of Enlistment, and the Code of the Army (something like Dr. Snyder proposes above) why would I need any other? Why would I need the NCO Creed, the Soldiers Creed, the Infantryman’s Creed, etc? One single unifying document that ties EVERY professional together would force the profession to look intensely at the meaning of the words rather than just another of a long series to be memorized or posted in the unit areas. Secondly, we need to make the study of leadership an absolute priority in NCOES. Not tasks, or how to write an NCOER, or fill out a DA 5988E, but the study of leadership, followership, cohesion, team building, human dynamics, trust development, ethics etc. The curriculum needs to be almost completely focused on the bonds forged between professionals, not how to do a skill level task. As I understand it, right now in every moment of the NCOES, only 8 hours are devoted to understanding leadership, the rest is basically task oriented. If this is true, we can look right here for a start point. I lead people. I must understand how they need to be led, how I prefer to lead, how to communicate and build trust with them, their understanding of the profession etc, in order to form the sense of community that binds us all as Army professionals. At the 11th hour when the chips are down it will be the bonds forged in the relationships that will carry the day. It will be the bonds of a single, well-internalized, easily understood, clearly communicated sense of professionalism that will bind Soldiers together.

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