By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, March 26, 2014 – Leadership is key to eliminating ethical lapses that have tarnished the reputation of the American military, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey said during a Pentagon Channel interview broadcast today.
The secretary and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff both reiterated that encouraging ethical behavior and strengthening the profession of arms has their full attention. Reports of sexual misconduct at many levels and cheating on proficiency exams brought the issue to the fore, and senior department leaders are concerned.
Setting high standards and then meeting them are what the U.S. military is all about, Hagel said. “We’ve always had quality people in the military, and we will continue to have them,” he added.
But it will require constant and laser-like focus on the issue, the secretary said.
“This is a force that has endured tremendous pressures and strain over the last 13 years,” Hagel said. “That’s not an excuse for bad behavior or certainly illegal behavior. We need to reinvigorate our ethics and our character. Chairman Dempsey has done a tremendous job on this, and I want to help him and our chiefs accomplish that mission.”
The chairman said it was not the war itself that caused the issue, but rather the pace at which the military has been operating. That pace caused leaders to neglect “some of the safety nets, if you will, that we’ve traditionally relied upon to make sure we’re living up to the values of our profession,” he said.
Those safety nets include command climate surveys and deployments not to war, but to schools. It also includes giving service members the time to reflect on experiences and to examine those experiences for lessons, he said.
“As well, it is time for us to take a look at ourselves as a profession, because we haven’t done so for about 20 years,” Dempsey said. “This is the right time, in the right place, with the right people to make sure we are doing what’s right for the country.”
If the military can get a handle on these lapses, it will retain the good will of the American people, the chairman said.
“I think the American people are enormously supportive of the military,” he added, “and of course the reason we’re taking this issue so seriously -- the issue of ethical behavior and professionalism -- is precisely because we don’t want to lose the esteem and trust of the American people.”
U.S. service members come from society and bring to the military all that society teaches them, Hagel said. “You are not born a military professional,” the secretary said. “You are nurtured and shaped and molded by the society you come from. But when you project yourself into the military and you take an oath of office, you immediately hold yourself to a higher standard.”
This doesn’t mean military personnel are better people, he added, but that they are committing themselves to the highest possible standards of professionalism and ethical behavior. “That’s conducting yourself always in an ethical way,” Hagel said.
Both men stressed that character and competence are not incompatible. “They must go hand in hand,” Hagel said. “Every institution is only as good as its people.”
Dempsey said the military must pay as much attention to character as it does to competence. This will continue to define the U.S. military long into the future, at war or at peace, he added.
Hagel announced yesterday that he asked Navy Rear Adm. Margaret “Peg” Klein to be his special advisor for military professionalism. She will report directly to the secretary and will head an office that works with the chairman and his team and with all of the services’ civilian and military leaders. She will look to incorporating ethics and character training everywhere it is needed.
“I’ve done this in coordination with Chairman Dempsey and the other chiefs to establish this office that would help coordinate, integrate and help define these programs,” Hagel said.
In closing, both men stressed leadership.
“All the issues we have been talking about are going to be solved through good solid leadership of a kind that has always marked us as a profession,” Dempsey said. “I suppose the message would be to pay particular attention now as we conclude a decade of conflict and as we struggle with changes to resources that are creating uncertainties in the ranks.
“We’ll get through all this,” the chairman continued, “and we’ll do what’s right for the nation if, and only if, we lead.”.
Hagel stressed leadership and accountability.
“Leadership is about holding people accountable to high standards,” he said, “and I don’t know of an institution in the world that has higher standards -- personal standards -- than the military.”