I believe that the actions in the military reflect on the type of leadership provided more than any other enterprise. The Associated Press recently published an article highlighting that the loss of officers tripled during the past three years due to misconduct and doubled for the enlisted. The article goes on to cite such causes as the repeated deployments to combat areas, scandals by high ranking officers, and the rapid growth of the military during this time because of the war requirements. The Army Chief of Staff, Gen. Raymond Odierno, stated that, "Sometimes in the past we've overlooked character issues because of competence and commitment." The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Gen. Martin Dempsey stated, "The ethical lapses can be attributed in some ways to 10 years of war when the military failed to balance character and competence." He went on to say, "It is the pace, and our failure to understand that at that pace we were neglecting the tools that manage us as a profession over time." I agree that those elements did contribute to causing a disciplinary problem, but effective leadership should have come into effect and dealt with the problem.
Dempsey and Odierno have been generals for over 10 years. What were they doing during the time that they say character was neglected in the military? I find it rather strange when high ranking officers retire and then start to state how things should be done in the military but they failed to do those exact things while they had the opportunity while on active duty. At least these two generals are raising the issue while still on active duty, but they are acting like they are outsiders looking in rather than individuals who have been in positions of authority for extended periods of time. The Marine Corps has not been exempt from its own scandals to include its commandant who seems to have difficulty understanding the limits of command influence when dealing with disciplinary actions.
The Naval Institute Proceedings is a professional magazine that is well read especially by the Marine and Navy personnel. The articles dealing with leadership are quite common, but too often they talk about educating senior officers about character and morals. I believe that it is far too late to educate seniors about these traits. If they became senior officers while lacking these traits consistently, why would they change? The selection process and entry level training are the first stages that must be addressed not the war colleges. Years ago, the Naval Academy had serious problems with its midshipmen and discipline. An analysis determined that although the academic and general competence had been improved for selecting applicants, these applicants had a reduced sense of the difference between right and wrong. An entire department was formed and time was spent educating and training these new midshipmen about character and its makeup. That training was continued throughout the time spent at the academy. Marine boot camp spends a lot of time stressing that a Marine does not lie, steal, or cheat. The drill instructors are carefully screened, selected, and trained so that those traits are reflected by them. Even so, there are some DIs who fail to live up to the standards and must be dealt with. The recruits learn first hand that character is important and is demanded and expected.
From what I hear, the quality of entry level enlisted and officers is higher than in the past, so these problems with misconduct come from within. The majority of juniors typically take their cue from seniors. The number of senior officers being dismissed not because of competence, but a lack of certain morals is more than troubling, it is catastrophic. The selection process for promotion must be examined and refined so that those who lack the character traits needed are weeded out before attaining high rank. If that is not done, there will be many superb officer and enlisted who will leave the service rather than remain for a career. People do not remain in an organization when the organization does not meet their expectations if they have a choice and in the military there is a choice when the obligated service is up.
Donald Myers is a retired Marine Colonel and regular contributor to Hernando Today. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.