Despite recent scandals, military culture and leadership is positive

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Several stories have appeared in the media lately that cast the military in a negative light. Cheating has been reported in periodic proficiency tests taken by Air Force Minuteman III missile crews, and similar cheating by the staff has been discovered at the Navy Nuclear Power Training Unit in Charleston, S.C.

Before we become concerned about today’s military culture, we should understand important features of these events. Once the cheating was discovered, it was reported up the chain of command. Corrective action was taken. Cheaters were suspended from their jobs, and their careers were put on hold. Responsible officers were fired – not because they cheated, but because they failed to lead their subordinates to reject cheating.

The secretary of defense and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff instituted a top-down review of military leadership and culture to ensure there is not a systemic problem. If problems are discovered, we can be confident they will be fixed.

The military’s culture of monitoring, accountability and corrective action is working.

More typical of the military’s cultural standards and leadership principles can be found in a speech given earlier this year by Adm. William H. McRaven. He is a Navy SEAL, and he is commander of the U.S. Special Forces Command.

His remarkable career includes combat in Iraq and Afghanistan, culminating in planning and leading the raid that killed Osama bin Laden. As the commander of USSOCOM and in previous joint commands, he has commanded Army Rangers, Green Berets and Navy SEALs.

With this background, McRaven was chosen to speak at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., to the Cadet Class of 2015. The occasion was the 500th day before the cadets are commissioned second lieutenants in the Army and begin their careers of service.

McRaven articulated lessons learned from his years working with the Army. Most lessons are applicable to all institutions, and other lessons provide insight into the military culture.

Excerpts from McRaven:

“I LEARNED FIRST and foremost that your allegiance as an officer is always, always to the nation and to those civilian leaders who were elected by the people, who represent the people. The oath you took is clear: to support and defend the Constitution, not the institution. Not the Army, not the corps, not the division, not the brigade, not the battalion, not the company, not the platoon and not the squad, but the nation.

“I learned that leadership is difficult because it is a human interaction and nothing – nothing – is more daunting, more frustrating more complex than trying to lead men and women in tough times.

“I learned that taking care of soldiers is not about coddling them. It is about challenging them.

“I learned that good officers lead from the front.

“I learned that if you are in combat, move to where the action is the hottest. Find the toughest, most dangerous ... job in your unit and go do it.

“I learned that you won’t get a lot of thanks in return. I learned that you shouldn’t expect it.

“I learned that great leaders know how to fail. Nothing so steels you for battle like failure. If you can’t stomach failure, then you will never be a great leader.

“I learned that great Army officers are risk-takers, but the greatest risk is not on the battlefield, but in standing up for what’s right.

“All Army officers are expected to take risks in battle. The truly great officers know that real victory is achieved when men and women of character take professional risks and challenge the weak-kneed, the faint of heart, the indecisive or the bullies.

“I learned that the great officers are equally good at following as they are at leading. Following is one of the most underrated
aspects of leadership, and each of you will be asked to follow someone else.

“I learned that the greatest privilege the Army can bestow upon you is to give you the opportunity to lead the magnificent men and women under your command. These soldiers are not without their challenges. But, when the chips are down – I mean really down – your soldiers will be there, and they will inspire you with their courage, their sense of duty, their leadership, their love and their respect.

“I learned that whether you serve four years or 40, you will never, ever regret your decision to have joined the United States Army.

“So what has this sailor learned? That there is no more noble calling in the world than to be a soldier in the United States Army.”

MCRAVEN’S INSPIRATIONAL principles of leadership are distilled from his 37 years of distinguished service to our country, in peacetime and in war. These are the cultural and leadership standards our military aspires to, and works diligently to attain.

McRaven, the cadets he addressed, and the men and women they lead are the reasons our military is the best in the world, and the most trusted American institution. They provide important lessons and role models for other American organizations. We are immensely fortunate they serve us.

(The writer is a retired U.S. Navy officer. He lives and writes in Savannah.)

Comments (15) Add comment
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deestafford
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deestafford 03/23/14 - 12:47 am
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What an excellent speech. Every word holds true.

What an excellent speech. Every word of it holds true.

Too bad our top generals at the Army Chief of Staff and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff do not read, understand, and live up to what is in the opening paragraph.

They are more concerned about pleasing their civilian bosses than doing what is right for the country.

They are neck deep in the readiness reducing social engineering experiences now going on in the military.

Riverman1
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Riverman1 03/23/14 - 01:27 am
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Ernie Pyle May Differ

He said your duty is, “Not the Army, not the corps, not the division, not the brigade, not the battalion, not the company, not the platoon and not the squad, but the nation.”

I find that an unrealistic view to paint for cadets and certainly not what happens in the real Army. You most certainly have a duty to those you serve with beyond flowery phrases. Nobody is thinking of serving our government in trying situations as everyone performs their tasks as part of a team to keep the unit from danger. If you are looking out for your soldiers you won’t go wrong no matter how many regulations you break.

I saw the Army change during my career for the better where ethics were taught from a realistic perspective. Soldiers of all ranks “stealing” coffee from the mess hall was one example given I remember. The point was it’s not right to enforce the same ethics in all circumstances. Most believed that coffee made the unit more proficient.

deestafford
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deestafford 03/23/14 - 01:38 am
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On the battlefield the number one priority...

On the battlefield the number one priority of the individual soldier is the fear of letting his buddies down...even to the risking of his own life. You fight for the man on the left and right of you.

On the battlefield the leader has two responsibilities: Accomplishing the mission and the welfare of the men. You can accomplish both by doing everything possible such as artillery support, helicopter gun ships, and air strikes to do everything you can to soften the target before you attack.

Where many soldiers get killed is politically motivated rules of engagement that don't allow soldiers to fight back or cause pilots to fly the same routes at the same times every day. Many of our soldiers killed in Afghanistan have been killed because of rules of engagement designed to placate the "Muslim" population rather than do what is right for the protection of the soldiers.

The bottom line is on the battle field a leader has to be tough and not coddle his men. It's like playing football. If you loaf, you're going to get hurt. If a leader coddles his men thinking he's giving them a break he will get more killed in the end and he also loses their respect.

CobaltGeorge
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CobaltGeorge 03/23/14 - 05:58 am
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Thanks dee,

you covered my feelings completely.

myfather15
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myfather15 03/23/14 - 06:20 am
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It's not a military problem,

It's not a military problem, it's a LEADERSHIP problem in general!! We have very few, IF ANY, men of honor today!! We need more MILITARY leaders to run for public office!! When is the last time the Commander in Chief was a TRUE VETERAN?

The politiicians are setting a course for this Country!! They are suppose to lead by example; and lead with honor, integrity, dignity, respect, morals and humility!! But are they? Absolutely NOT!! We have very few leaders today that REFUSE to allow themselve to get caught up in Washington corruption!! Most of them willfully join in the corruption!!

Then, the young military leaders see this and it's passed down!! We need MEN OF HONOR to once again lead this Country!! Setting the example for the generations to come!! But what do we have? The Liar in Chief; Obama and his minions Reid and Pelosi!!! We are DOOMED!!!

I'm not kidding; with leaders like this and many of the republicans as well, this Country is doomed!! These people are good at LYING!! They wouldn't know how to lead a group of thirty horses to water!!

avidreader
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avidreader 03/23/14 - 09:18 am
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Ethics!

Unethical leaders pop up in every aspect of our society -- private industry, government, and military. I've always wondered how many violations of ethical standards go unpunished in the military.

I have been paying close attention to Brig. General Jeffrey Sinclair's trial. I never knew that adultery is a crime in the military. Very interesting trial. It appears that the U.S. Army is going to deal with this man in a vigorous manner. Good!

deestafford
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deestafford 03/23/14 - 09:32 am
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One of the things about ethnics and integrity in the military..

One of the things about ethnics and integrity in the military that make a difference with other professions is that violations of either can cost lives.

If someone violates either they need to be found out and weeded out as soon as possible...no matter their rank. If the details were known there is more housecleaning done by the military in this area than in any other.

It's sell-policing in that one does not want an unethical or a person with weak integrity in their mist. That's one of the reasons an enlisted man makes a big mistake of exercising his option of having his peers rather than officers on a court martial. They jealously guard their ranks as do all members of the military.

These pushes by some in Congress to take certain aspects of military justice away from commanders are misguided because of their ignorance of the military culture and their desire for social engineering.

corgimom
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corgimom 03/23/14 - 03:20 pm
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Sinclair got a slap on the

Sinclair got a slap on the wrist. Big deal, $20,000.

I wonder how many subordinates that he put out of the Army, or demoted, for doing the SAME EXACT THING.

He is a big HYPOCRITE, and he should've been put out of the Army, not allowed to retire and get full pay and benefits.

HE is a perfect example of people who are a DISGRACE to the Army.

corgimom
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corgimom 03/23/14 - 03:28 pm
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When you have an

When you have an all-volunteer military, you probably won't get any more veterans as President, ever again.

And I think that's a good thing, it was never a requirement, and never should be.

I am so amused when people talk about "President So-and-So never ran a business!"

Did Ronald Reagan run a business?

"When was the last time a TRUE VETERAN was President?"

Hey, Ronnie stayed in Hollywood and made war movies. He wasn't about to mess up his pretty face or get wounded and lose his movie career.

Look to the Constitution, folks. The Founding Fathers wanted anybody to be eligible if they were Americans. They knew that it wasn't about running a business or fighting in the military, neither of those are necessary to be President. And they shouldn't be.

One of the reasons why Obama was elected is that he called for a reduction in troops. While I don't agree with that, the last wars that we have been in- Iran, Iraq, and Afghanistan have nearly bankrupted the country.

He is doing exactly what he was elected to do- by people that have lived in a nation with an all-volunteer military for nearly 40 years. It's never going to go back to the way it was. Ever.

myfather15
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myfather15 03/23/14 - 06:23 pm
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Corgimom

No, it shouldn't be a requirement, but WE THE PEOPLE should elect the WARRIORS!! Not some community organizers with the intestinal fortitude of a cockroach!! Requirement? No, but we NEED a strong man of Honor, with military leadership back in the White House!! Washington was the first and BEST President ever, and the last was Eisenhower!! People who have the ability to lead men into conflict, KNOW how to TRULY LEAD MEN!! I've served under many of them and would have fought an 800 pound silverback for them!! They knew how to motivate their men!! They weren't a pathetic, dope smoking community organizer!!!

Riverman1
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Riverman1 03/23/14 - 07:32 pm
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Thinking about what Corgimom

Thinking about what Corgimom said, Nixon was in the Navy in WWII. GHW Bush was a pilot in WWII who was shot down in the Pacific. GW was in the Air National Guard, a pilot, although his unit was not sent to Vietnam as we all know. Reagan was in the Army making films as mentioned. LBJ served in the Navy in the Pacific. Kennedy and PT 109 we know about. Ditto Ike. Jimmy Carter served on nuclear subs. Gerald Ford saw action in the Navy in WWII. So it wasn't until Clinton and then Obama in recent history that the President didn't have a military background. Truman also was in WWI in the Army.

KSL
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KSL 03/23/14 - 09:15 pm
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Well it is a known fact this

Well it is a known fact this potus has no business nor military experience. I wish someone would calculate the expense the usurpers in the White House have cost taxpayers in their vacations and so called diplomatic trips. Keep in mind, have the Obamas ever stayed anywhere they owned?

corgimom
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corgimom 03/23/14 - 10:10 pm
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myfather, do you want to talk

myfather, do you want to talk about George W and his cocaine use? And of course he tried pot, it would be ridiculous to think he did cocaine but not pot.

The idea that the President of the US will have never ever tried pot is pretty much gone, too. At least Obama admitted it, unlike Bill "I never inhaled" Clinton, who couldn't tell the truth about anything if it fell on him.

Maybe a candidate will be that squeaky clean, but it probably won't ever happen again. It's highly unlikely.

And then we could talk about Kennedy, the speed freak, and his "vitamin" injections. He was a warrior too, but he was an absolute POS, like his father and his brothers.

So see, that doesn't necessarily qualify people either.

Abraham Lincoln didn't have military experience, either. Are you going to say he couldn't lead men?

corgimom
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corgimom 03/23/14 - 10:14 pm
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We've had nearly two

We've had nearly two generations, and soon to start on a third, of an all-volunteer military. So anybody that thinks there is going to be a whole lot of Presidents in the future with that experience is mistaken.

But hey, Mitt Romney didn't have any military experience either, did he? Daddy George wasn't about to have Mitt go off to war.

You're at a real disadvantage on here, myfather. All of us lived through this stuff, we remember vividly about all these things, and you're reduced to just reading about them. The 50's, 60's, and 70's and 80's were very interesting times for all of us who went through them, as young people and adults.

myfather15
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myfather15 03/26/14 - 05:25 am
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I haven't been on in a couple

I haven't been on in a couple days, but if you see this corgimom; can you say with all honesty that we are better off today, than we were prior to the generations you speak of? The 50's, 60's, 70's and 80's?

Because, although you lived through them, many others did as well and DO NOT believe we are anywhere near better off!! They believe the Countries morals, along with any financial responsibility are about to bottom out!! Are we a more moral Country? Are we still the Country the world looks up too? Are we still the Country that has won so many wars for FREEDOM, throughout the world? Are we still a Country with honor and integrity? If you believe we are, then YOU MADAM, would be the minority!!

And those drug smoking generations you speak of, I believe they are the main ones (not alone) responsible for the moral decline!! Those teenagers and young adults of those generations, are now the "leaders" of the Country!! Those "Woodstock" folks, are now in the 60's and 70's!!

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