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Military must address its leadership problem


Published:   |   Updated: February 28, 2014 at 11:58 AM

Actions in the military reflect the type of leadership that is provided more than any other enterprise. The Associated Press recently reported that the loss of officers has tripled during the past three years due to misconduct, and doubled for the enlisted. The article goes on to cite such causes as repeated deployments to combat areas, scandals involving 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, “Sometimes in the past we’ve overlooked character issues because of competence and commitment.” 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.”

I agree that those elements contributed to a disciplinary problem, but effective leadership should have come into effect and dealt with the problem.

Dempsey and Odierno have been generals more than 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, including its commandant, who seems to have difficulty understanding the limits of command influence when dealing with disciplinary actions.

The Naval Institute magazine Proceedings is well read, especially by Marine and Navy personnel. Its articles dealing with leadership too often talk about educating senior officers about character and morals. But if they became ranking officers without those traits, 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 midshipmen discipline. An analysis determined that although the academic and general competence of applicants had improved, 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 member of the Corps 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 incompetence but a lack of 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 officers and enlisted who will leave the service rather than remain for a career. People do not remain in an organization that 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, a retired Marine colonel, lives in Hernando County. He can be reached at dmyersusmc@tampabay.rr.com.

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