The Bayonet

Tuesday, Aug. 05, 2014

CSA: Ethical dilemmas pose tough calls for Soldiers

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WEST POINT, N.Y. - One of the hardest things a Soldier will face in his or her career isn't necessarily the enemy. It might well be telling another Soldier that his or her behavior is ethically or morally wrong, said the Army chief of staff.

Gen. Ray Odierno shared his opening remarks with general officers and command sergeants major from across the components at the first CSA Army Profession Symposium.

The reason it's so hard, he said, is because Soldiers are deeply committed to each other.

"That's integral," he said. "In combat, you have to depend on the person on your right and left. Your life is in their hands. But it's also about being committed to the institution."

Odierno then provided some hypothetical examples of why ethical dilemmas are so difficult to grapple with:

After returning from a deployment, Alpha Company takes the Army Physical Fitness Test. A certain sergeant is considered the best sergeant in the platoon. He served admirably in combat and always scored a perfect 300 on the APFT. He's now up for promotion to staff sergeant.

But on this particular day, he scored a 240. That score will result in him not earning enough points for promotion to staff sergeant and the next opportunity for promotions may not be for a long time.

The platoon leader wants to look out for his Soldiers, particularly for this noncommissioned officer who did incredible things in combat. So he gives the sergeant a 300.

The platoon leader might get away with that but what about next time? Odierno asked, continuing with the example:

Down the road, that same platoon leader has become a battalion commander. He's been bragging about his battalion and how well it's been doing and how well it will perform at an upcoming National Training Center rotation.

But, the battalion ends up having a "lousy rotation."

But instead of admitting as much, he gets his battalion certified "T-1, fully trained and ready for combat, yet everyone knows it's not true."

Two months later, that battalion deploys to combat and Soldiers are killed. "Now your ethical dilemma is growing," Odierno said.

He continued the example. Ten years later, he's a general officer providing congressional testimony. Lawmakers are asking about the readiness of his division. He's been told that the politically correct thing to say is "we're ready to do whatever you ask."

But, his division is lacking in training and modernized equipment. Yet, he tells Congress that they're combat-ready.

"So the dilemma grows and grows and builds and builds," Odierno said. "Once you start down that path, it becomes easier and easier to make those decisions." The ramifications of those decisions won't necessarily "fall on you," he said. "It will fall on those Soldiers put in harm's way."

The vast majority of Soldiers understand the importance of commitment to the institution as well as commitment to one another, Odierno said he believes, "but we can't rest on our laurels.

"We have to have those discussions, about character, that's who we are. Our character has to represent what our country stands for," he said. "It's about doing what's right when nobody else is watching."

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