Military Review: Ethical Fading

First Lieutenant Robert Callahan wrote a short piece in the March-April Military Review titled I’m FadedIt is a reaction and example to last year’s Lying to Ourselves: Dishonesty in the Army Profession, which as the title implies, tackles dishonesty in the Army profession. 

In his article, Callahan recounts how he omitted things from his record of medical history over time after learning from other officers how they filled out the forms. As Callahan learned, other officers often did not include every detail about themselves because they believed some of those details were irrelevant or might preclude them from some required training. Even though Callahan had at one time been thorough and honest on the forms, he felt compelled to do what everyone else was doing.

Callahan calls his action a result of “ethical fading.” While at his commissioning source or in his first couple of years in the Army, there was no question as to how he should complete the forms. It was only after he learned what others were doing – and getting away with – that he considered doing the same. Once he understood how the system worked, he worked chiefly towards “meeting the appropriate deadline and continuing with my day.”

In his story, instead of being reprimanded, the officials managing the paperwork simply let him know that his new and old paperwork did not match, and they allowed him the opportunity to make the correction. He writes:

I believe this nudge represented an effective and reasonable first step for implementing the recommendations of Wong and Gerras (Lying to Ourselves). Calling out obvious dishonesty and then correcting it shows that integrity always matters. Acknowledging that a systemic integrity problem can be fixed by focusing on the truth instead of staging a witch hunt to push dishonesty reflects that all Army officers are responsible for this problem, reaffirms each officer’s commitment to the Army Values, and regenerates the military profession one officer at a time.

This was a good, honest piece that put a story to a real problem. While in the scheme of things this was a small transgression, the pressure on officers to be dishonest can be immense – often because of anxiety over the subsequent “witch hunt” of which Callahan refers.

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Four Years of Carrying the Gun

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Today is the fourth anniversary of Carrying the Gun.

Top posts:
1. Why We Need West Point: Painfully Written by an OCS Guy
2. Enough with the ‘infidel’ stuff. Seriously, stop.
3. Army Myths: The .50 cal will kill/harm/maim even if you miss

Top search terms:
1. plexiglass boards army (see this post)
2. combat infantry badge (see this post)
3. how to make a map board army (see this post)

Anniversaries are a pretty good time for reflection. I’m surprised that I’ve managed to keep the blog going, and the readership growing along with it. Every now and then I wonder if it is worth continuing, and I always come back to the idea that it is, because if nothing else, it allows me to work out thoughts and ideas in a way I just wouldn’t if I weren’t writing.

While I don’t go around telling everyone I know I have a blog, I’m still surprised when people I know approach me and tell me they liked something I wrote. It’s always best when they say they thought one way on a subject, but now see it another way as a result of something I put up here.

Outside of the blog, I wrote a piece on the problem with Lieutenant’s who write that was published on the Company Command and Platoon Leader blog. I wrote it while in Afghanistan, and less than 24 hours of it being posted, some of the superior officers and NCOs I was working with found it, printed it, and were passing it around a small camp in Jalalabad. It was a kind of surreal moment, sitting there, watching a grizzled NCO read something I wrote in an operations center. He liked it, though.

I also published a piece in Military Review, Operational Resilience in the Infantry Rifle Platoon. For anyone who is wondering, publishing there is a very long process. I think I submitted the piece in October or November of 2014 and it didn’t publish until May-June 2015. It was a good experience though, and the editing process was painful (but useful).

Also, the Military Writers Guild launched, which is a consortium of military writers. I’m a proud member and glad to be a part of a community inside the military that is working towards expressing and sharing ideas.

There’s been an explosion of conglomerate military writing sites that sprung up over the past year(s), like Task & Purpose and We Are The Mighty, among others. Those sites provide a great outlet for military and veterans to get their thoughts down and out there, but don’t necessarily want to manage their own blog.

The lone blog seems to be a dying species. As I’ve written about before, I’ve never been very interested in documenting the day-to-day of what I do, for a bunch of reasons, but I do it sometimes, and I think it adds more character to a blog than listicles and clickbait.

Here’s to another year.

@dongomezjr

Military Review: Operational Resilience in the Infantry Rifle Platoon

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I co-authored an article that is published in the May-June issue of Military Review. It’s called Operational Resilience in the Infantry Rifle Platoon and details efforts our platoon took over the past year to implement resilience techniques at the platoon level.

I submitted the article last year, and the process for getting published in Military Review is long, but the timing couldn’t be better. A couple of weeks ago, USA Today published an article criticizing the Army’s resilience program and it was widely shared on social media among veteran friends with the damning headline Army morale low despite 6 year, $287 million optimism program. The insinuation is that the implementation of the resilience program was chiefly an effort to raise morale, which I’m pretty sure wasn’t the case. Anyone who has served in the military knows that maintaining high morale is tough nowadays – it’s not just chow, mail, and free time anymore.

I’m a fan of resilience training. It makes sense to me and as someone who spends a lot of time reading about productivity (I’m a big Gretchen Rubin fan), integrating resilience training and letting it set seems like a good idea in today’s Army.

The major problem with resilience training, as I point out in the Military Review article, is that it has been implemented mostly at the individual level. That is, NCOs go to the Master Resilience Course and learn the material, and then (mostly) return to their unit and periodically give a class on resilience. The only person who really benefits from that is the NCO, who has had the in-depth experience in the class to actually use some of the techniques. Implementing resilience at the unit level has not really been accomplished. My argument is that if units actually worked at implementing the techniques beyond the individual level, we might actually see better results.

The point of this post is not to simply counter the USA Today article, but to get you to go check out the article in Military Review, where you have at least one example of a small unit utilizing resilience techniques – not to raise morale – but to do better work.

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Two (More) Academic Articles on Women in the Infantry

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A reader of the blog sent me on a hunt for two (more) academic articles on women in the infantry, or, women in combat arms more generally. The two articles are “Breaking the Kevlar Ceiling” by Major Jacqueline Escobar and “Why Can’t Anything Be Done?” by Dr. W.J. Gregor.

The articles are worth reading in their entirety – but they are not really shedding anything new on the discourse. This is a topic that has been beaten beyond death. And anything we really ever needed to know was laid out twenty years ago by COL(R) John Ripley.

However, I’ll attempt to boil these articles down to their thesis’ below.

Major Escobar makes the case that getting more women into the top positions of the Army and military is critical to ensuring that we make the best strategic decisions possible. Her evidence comes from studies on corporate America where it was determined that achieving a “critical mass” of women in the boardroom creates a “fundamental change in the boardroom and enhance[s] corporate governance.” She demonstrates that although the top positions in the military aren’t necessarily coded to combat arms, the historical norm has been that those top positions are traditionally filled by combat arms officers. Thus, allowing women to serve in combat arms would by extension lead to more female combat arms officers and eventually more women generals in the top positions, finally leading to a “fundamental change in the boardroom” and an “enhanced corporate governance.”

Escobar also makes an argument that another reason female officers are not making it to the top ranks is because many of them choose to get out at or before the field-grade level. Part of the reason, she says, is because they know that in the current system, the chances of them achieving the highest positions in the military are slim given the current restraints (top positions being traditionally reserved for combat arms guys, for example).

It needs to be stated that Dr. Gregor is linked to the Center for Military Readiness, which is a non-profit that has opposed the repeal of ‘Don’t Ask Don’t Tell’ and often publishes articles against integration of combat arms. That is to say, they have an agenda. Dr. Gregor’s article is lightly colored with the bias of someone out to prove his hypothesis out of political spite rather than allowing the data to speak for itself (he writes about the “Democrat Congress” and targets “those who are committed to making the Army look right”). That said, where the paper is coming from shouldn’t discourage you from reading it. Data is data, and there is value in reaping from multiple perspectives.

It’s tough to plow through because he builds the case slowly and over arguments you’ve no doubt read about time and time again. For the patient reader, there is value in sloughing through, though. Dr. Gregor argues through the presentation of physical fitness data that women simply are not cut out for the tough work of combat arms. The graphs he presents are convincing, showing that even the top performing females just barely reach nod-worthy standards in the male category.

Interestingly, Dr. Gregor does not make the argument that because so few women would be able to meet the male standards (in this case, on the APFT) that we should not integrate combat arms. Instead of making that argument, he argues instead that if we were to maintain current standards (which it is likely we will) than given the data, very few women will ascend into combat arms, and that of those who do, they will be at a severe handicap because of the built-in limitations of their gender which will further hinder them as they are rated against their peers – mostly males. Thus, fewer women will ascend the ranks to get into the “boardroom” as Escobar argues because there will be so few that make it through the brutal combat arms gauntlet.

It’s an interesting argument, a kind of “be careful what you wish for” argument. Of course, the great fear is that “standards” may change to allow more women in, at the risk of military readiness and performance. Then, you would have more women making it to the “boardroom” of a force that looks different than it does now. Better? I don’t know.

The two articles interplay well with one another, and I thank the reader who sent me to them.

Aside from the ominous forecasting, I’m of the belief that writers on this topic truly do want to see a military that is better than before, and their passion pours onto the page when they write about it. For various reasons, that passion often comes out as either vehemently opposed to integration or fanatically in support of it.

Again, I think the key question that we aren’t asking is ‘what is the infantry?’ Or rather, what do we want the infantry to be? Has it changed? Should it change?

I think there is a disconnect out there in what people think the infantry is (or want it to be) versus what it actually is. Most people (meaning, outsiders) think the infantry is something between what it actually is (close with and destroy the enemy) and special forces (hearts and minds). That force – which doesn’t exist – is filled with older, exceptionally fit, super-smart men and women.

So, go read the articles and be informed.

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The Ethics of the Marine Corps Urination Case

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A couple of weeks ago two really interesting things emerged in military writing. One is this story on the Marine Corps urination case in the Marine Corps Times (“Exclusive: Marine scout sniper in urination video controversy speaks out“). The other was an article from Military Review that was featured on Tom Rick’s Best Defense (“The Myths We Soldiers Tell Ourselves“). One an article based on an interview with one of the Marines being punished for the urination video, the other a scholarly article by two active and one retired Army Lieutenant Colonels that taught Ethics at West Point.

I read both of these articles within a day of each other and couldn’t help but notice how they unintentionally bleed into one another. I encourage you to read both articles in their entirety and make your own judgments. While you’re at it, you should also read this – “Warriors, the Army Ethos, and the Sacred Trust of Soldiers.”

I pulled these paragraphs from the articles, because they appear to be talking to each other:

From the Marine Corps Times:

What really led up to it is they desecrated one of our Marines,” Richards said of the video. “When you’re under that much stress and in that environment, your whole mental being changes. You’re no longer Joe the Family Man. You’re a warrior, and if you read back to biblical wars and wars since the dawn of time, men have been doing this to men for millennia.

From “Myths”:

The authors argued in a previous essay, “War is a Moral Force,” that the most critical considerations of human conflict are the moral ones. These considerations were as important to the Romans as they are now to us, not something new to modern war. However, the information age has amplified the effects. There may have been a time when mythologizing served a useful purpose in war, but only ignorance could make it work. Today, in an age in which information flies around the world at the speed of light, immediately bringing a great coherency and power to moral opinion, we can no longer assume such ignorance will last. We cannot long hope to be allowed to say we are one thing while actually being something else. Our spoken words (and values) must be indicative of our actions.

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