"Our profession is built on the bedrock of trust," the Army chief of staff, Gen. Ray Odierno, said.
"Trust is earned. It is not given," Odierno told attendees at an Institute of Land Warfare Military Forum titled "The Army Profession" Oct. 23 during the Association of the United States Army’s Annual Meeting and Exposition.
"It is not rank-oriented. It is deeds, not words," he emphasized.
Odierno said the Army has learned time and time again all anyone needs to do is listen to the young soldiers who have been in combat to understand what trust between soldiers means, and how much they rely on the person to their left or to their right.
"You have to rely on them undeniably. You have to be there for each other in the most stringent of conditions. You have to believe that they will be there for you at the most important times. You have to work as a team and that trust must be built over time, and it must be earned," he said.
The trust between soldiers and leaders is absolutely fundamental and critical to the profession, Odierno explained.
The foundation of being an effective leader is to earn the trust of peers, subordinates and superiors.
"I want to put emphasis on earned. I worry that sometimes we have too many people that believe just because they are a certain rank they automatically deserve a certain amount of trust and respect," he said.
Adding, "You have to earn it. You earn it by your actions, you earn it by your experience, and you earn it by your ability to lead, mostly in the most difficult times, so that is incumbent in everything we do."
He explained to build trust between soldiers and leaders there must be "a leader who believes in what they are doing; a leader who leads from the front; a leader who is able then to garner a respect that ultimately engenders trust from his subordinates and his fellow leaders."
Trust goes beyond the faith soldiers have in each other and includes trust between the Army and soldiers.
"It is about the institution of the Army by making sure we are doing everything we can to ensure we have the best-trained, the best-equipped and the most ready soldiers," Odierno said.
"We must have leaders that are willing to make tough decisions. Who are willing to be tough and fair with their soldiers. That are willing to uphold the highest standards for their soldiers," he added.
When leaders ask him what they can do as professionals for their troops, he said, "It’s not to coddle them, it’s not to be a nice guy, it’s not to be their friend, it’s to make sure they are absolutely prepared, so when we ask them to go to combat, they can do the appropriate mission, they can protect themselves, and they come back to their families."
The final level of trust, Odierno said, is between the American people and the Army when they entrust their sons and daughters to the military.
"Mothers and fathers turn over their young sons and daughters to us in order to build them up to something more and help them to become part of something that’s bigger than themselves," Odierno said.
Adding, "They trust we will train them, and we will provide them a learning environment that allows them to individually improve and collectively improve as a whole Army."
The American people hold the Army accountable as it executes one of the most important missions the Army is given – the execution of combat land power.
"They expect us to hold a higher standard. We represent the United States wherever we go abroad," Odierno said.
"What I want is when someone sees a soldier, no matter where it might be ... that they understand that they are talking to someone who is a true professional. Who understands their business? Who has the moral and ethical values to make the right judgments, and causes them to say: ‘I want to be just like him.’"
(Editor’s note: This story is based on an article by Sgt. 1st Class Raymond J. Piper, Army News Service.)