By Army Sgt. 1st Class Tyrone C. Marshall Jr.
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, May 15, 2014 – Evaluating the state of its professionalism is a way for today’s military to pay tribute to those who have served before and to keep faith with the American people, the Defense Department’s senior ethics officer said here today.
Five weeks into her new position as Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel’s senior advisor for military professionalism, Navy Rear Adm. Margaret D. “Peg” Klein discussed during remarks at a Surface Navy Association luncheon the scope of her office’s mission and the importance of honoring the value of military professionalism.
“When you think about what goes into military professionalism, frequently the first word that comes to peoples’ mind is ethics,” she said. Some people think about ethics from a compliance or Law of Armed Conflict standpoint, she added, but she said her office’s charter is all-encompassing.
The admiral said she has had discussions with academics and practitioners as she has sought to examine the issues facing military professionalism.
“We were energized because of the value of the profession and [because] the honor that we pay to those who’ve gone before us is very important,” she said. “We care deeply about the profession. We are professionals -- what we do impacts the profession. It’s how we honor the people who have gone before us, but I also want to talk about our collective responsibility to those who come next.”
Klein touched on various topics relating to the question of why an evaluation of military professionalism is necessary.
“As a profession,” the admiral said, “you could say that we’ve been dead reckoning for a while, and that, perhaps, it’s time to take a fix and have a closer look at our position.”
Klein said it would easy to say this examination has come about in light of recent behavior and incidents that “grab headlines and causes us to talk and maybe ask questions among ourselves.”
“But it’s more than that,” she added. “It’s about leadership. That is what we all have in common. We are all leaders, whether in civilian clothes or whether in the uniform of our country.” Regardless of whether people wear a military uniform now or have done so previously, Klein said, there is an “obligation as leaders to be stewards or custodians of this profession.”
Klein noted that Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, began extensively exploring the profession of arms when he led the Army’s Training and Doctrine Command.
“General Dempsey, when he was the head of Training and Doctrine Command, spent a lot of time thinking and writing, and talking about the profession,” she said. “He undertook a study of the profession, noting that … ‘war has changed us, but we don’t yet know how,’” Klein said.
The chairman also had an understanding of the profession that ancient Greek poet Homer wrote about in “The Iliad.”
“‘The Iliad’ is an ancient story about ethical conduct during war,” Klein said. “That little microcosm inside of ‘The Iliad’ indicates that the discussion about professionalism is not new, nor the questions that we’re asking ourselves.”
The admiral noted the U.S. military has evaluated itself as a profession dating back to the Civil War. After World War II, Vietnam, and the end of the Cold War, Klein said, “we have re-evaluated who we are, and what we stand for as a profession.”
Professions that are agile ask very fundamental questions, the admiral said. “They evolve, they challenge assumptions, they reflect and they grow, and not just in size,” she told the audience.
“But there’s still a bigger reason to ask questions,” Klein added. “As a profession, we don’t exist because we’re a jobs program. We don’t exist to perpetuate ourselves. We’re an instrument of national power, and we take an oath to the Constitution. Every one of us, when we joined, we answered a calling -- a calling that that oath represents.”
Therefore, Klein said, actions by service members are not judged against whatever societal norm someone picks out and uses. “We’re judged against that special trust and confidence that’s placed in us,” she said. “So our actions -- good and bad -- reflect on the profession. … We have the leadership role to carry out, [and] it’s that profession that we’re responsible to.”
Hagel established the position she occupies, Klein said, so someone could spend time thinking about the profession.
“So we can put all the programs and policies in place to say that we don’t condone ‘X’ behavior,” she added, “but until each one of us realizes that it’s our responsibility -- it’s our duty to eradicate these behaviors from our profession -- they’ll continue to exist.”
Klein quoted Hagel in saying, “‘It’s the responsibly of all of us -- all of us who asked for the trust and confidence of the American people -- to ensure ethics and character are imbued in all our people.’”
As her office begins its work, Klein said, she and her staff are trying to understand the scope of the issues and the underlying behaviors from both ends of the age and experience spectrum.
“The work that we’re doing is about people,” Klein said. “Who we promote, therefore, has to represent what we promote.”
“Why evaluate our profession?” she asked again. Part of it is to honor those who served in the past, but it’s also about the future, Klein said.
“It’s about the citizens we’ve taken an oath to protect, and those citizens who provide their sons and daughters,” the admiral said. “They’re the ‘why.’”