Army Ethics Training

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Proper execution of a soldier’s duty often requires split-second, sound ethical judgment. Any violation of the public trust or abuse of the soldier’s authority over others can lead to tragic consequences. Accordingly, the Army now mandates continued ethics training for all military and civilian personnel. The recent scandals involving Army personnel at Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib military prisons have heightened public interest in Army ethics, and compelled Army leaders to make ethics training a priority.

Ethics Training Awareness

The 1981 U.S. Army Directive, “The Ethical Development of the Professional U.S. Army Officer” discusses the Army’s “period of serious introspection” following the Vietnam War regarding its “fundamental values” and ineffective, decentralized approach to ethics training. This led to the designation in 1980 of a “a new core leadership program" at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas that would include "professional ethics as an essential ingredient.”

Fourteen Principles of Ethical Conduct

According to the “Memorandum For Senior Army Leaders” issued by the Secretary of the Army, all Army personnel are expected to “adhere to and promote” the Fourteen Principles of Ethical Conduct. The principles emphasize public service as a public trust, requiring personnel to “place loyalty to the Constitution, the laws, and ethical principles above private gain." Conflicts of interest, the acceptance of gifts and preferential treatment to private organizations or individuals are a few of the ethical hazards listed. The disclosure of waste, fraud, abuse and corruption to appropriate authorities, and the adherence to equal opportunity laws are also among the Fourteen Principles.

Initial and Periodic Training

According to the Joint Ethics Regulation issued by the Department of Defense, all non-enlisted soldiers and Army employees must begin ethics training “no later than 90 days after their entry on active duty or the employee’s initial entry date.” Enlisted recruits begin ethics training within 180 days of beginning active duty. Periodic or annual ethics training is mandatory for almost all Army personnel.

Recent Changes

Professor Paul Robinson, author of “Military Honour and the Conduct of War: From Ancient Greece to Iraq," states that formal ethics training has only become an important part of military training within the last decade. In a December 2009 Associated Press article, John Milburn writes, “Army leaders who’ve been prompted to rethink tactics and war-fighting doctrines because of Iraq and Afghanistan also see a need to re-examine how they educate soldiers about ethics.” The Abu Ghraib scandal in particular, and unconventional warfare in general, has brought about a focus on ethics that some Army leaders view as long overdue, according to Milburn.

Current Approach

Military officials are in the early stages of blending ethics-related material into “handbooks, papers, online presentations and videos” used to train soldiers, Milburn writes. A soldier’s “grounding in ethics—strong or weak” will become a strong consideration in a soldier’s promotions, say the officials. In the AP article, Brig. General Ed Cardon, deputy commandant of the Fort Leavenworth college, emphasized the importance of a continued focus on ethics. “It can’t be, ‘Today we’ll do ethics training and that will do for the year.' It has to be ingrained in everything we do, on and off duty.”