What is the Army Ethic and what is the difference between “Ethic” and “ethics”? Ethics is the study of what is right and wrong (philosophy, theology, law). The Army Ethic is the professional ethic of the U.S. Army—the heart of the Army. It inspires soldiers’ shared identity as trusted Army professionals of character, competence and commitment, bound together in common moral purpose.
The moral principles of the Army Ethic, including the Army Values, provide the moral and legal basis for why and how we serve, guiding our decisions and actions. The Army exists as a profession for one reason: to serve the nation by supporting and defending the Constitution in a way that upholds the rights and interests of the American people. The Army Ethic defines what it means to serve honorably … in the conduct of our mission, performance of duty and all aspects of life. Living by and upholding the Army Ethic is the foundation for mutual trust and cohesive teamwork—the first principle of Mission Command.
The vignettes that follow illustrate selected moral principles of the Army Ethic in action as identified in Chapter 2: The Army Ethic of Army Doctrine Reference Publication 1: The Army Profession.
Operation Acid Gambit
Successful hostage rescues frequently require surprise, speed and violent action. In the early morning hours of Dec. 20, 1989, at the beginning of combat operations in Panama, soldiers assigned to the 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment-Delta, supported by MH-6 Little Bird helicopters of the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment, conducted a hostage rescue at the Panamanian Carcel Modelo Prison. Their mission was to free an American citizen, Kurt Muse. The rescue team landed on the prison roof, breached an entryway, engaged the Panamanian guards, located Muse, forced open his cell door and led him to the roof for extraction—all in six minutes.
This action during Operation Just Cause, called Operation Acid Gambit, is an example of how to accomplish a complex, dangerous mission in the right way. The leader-development process that brought this team together strengthened its members’ character, competence and commitment. These soldiers possessed the character to risk their lives while freeing a captured American citizen. They demonstrated the competence to complete the mission with discipline and to standards of excellence. They were committed to their task, overcoming enemy action and every obstacle to persevere and succeed.
This action illustrates the moral principle: “We do our duty, leading and following with discipline, striving for excellence, putting the needs of others above our own, and accomplishing the mission as a team.”
The Army Value of Duty charges us with the responsibility to contribute our best efforts to accomplish the mission. In performing our duty, we make right decisions and take right actions to the best of our ability. This does not mean that we will always succeed or avoid all mistakes. Setbacks and errors will occur in any human endeavor. We learn from experience, good and bad, develop in wisdom and leadership, and strive for excellence.
Mission During Operation Iraqi Freedom
In the early morning hours of Jan. 29, 2007, Company C, 2nd Battalion, 3rd Infantry Regiment, arrived at Az Zarqa near Najaf, Iraq. Their mission was to secure a downed AH-64 Apache helicopter and reinforce Operational Detachment A-566 and the Iraqi National Police. The company commander, Capt. Brent A. Clemmer, and 1st Sgt. Viriato Ferrera deployed their company to eliminate enemy forces and gain control of the aircraft. After engaging with preparatory fires, including hand grenades, and just before the final assault, enemy combatants surrendered, hundreds of them. Clemmer’s men checked fire, accepted the enemy’s surrender and began treating the wounded.
In Clemmer’s words: “There is not an[other] Army in the world … that can go from taking pins out of grenades and throwing them into trenches and then treating enemy wounded and taking care of an enemy they had been killing throughout the night.”
Ferrera echoed his commander’s sentiment: “At that point I realized how unique our Army is and how different we are in regard to that aspect. We will fight them one minute and the next minute we will turn around and become their … saviors.”
This action during Operation Iraqi Freedom illustrates what it means to act in accordance with the moral principle: “In war and peace, we recognize the intrinsic dignity and worth of all people, treating them with respect.”
As stated in the Declaration of Independence, the human rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are inalienable and universal. Accordingly, we treat all people with respect, recognizing their intrinsic dignity and worth, demonstrating consideration for all. Even those who threaten the rights of others are entitled to just treatment according to law, regulations and rules of engagement. We lead by example and do what is right to prevent abusive treatment of others. We protect those who are threatened or suffer disregard for their inherent dignity and worth. We do not tolerate mistreatment of people or their property.
Operation Continue Hope
In September 1993 in Somalia, three weeks before the incident portrayed in Black Hawk Down, Maj. Gen. David Meade, commanding general of the 10th Mountain Division (Light Infantry), made an estimate of the situation and communicated his assessment through the chain of command to the chief of staff of the Army: “We have regressed to old ways. Our efforts are not characterized by the use of overwhelming force, not characterized by a commitment to decisive results and victory, not designed to seize the initiative, and there is no simultaneous application of combat power, and not a plan to win quick. … The war is a mess and headed in the wrong direction.”
This straightforward, honest assessment of Operation Continue Hope is a clear example of the moral principle: “We lead by example and demonstrate courage by doing what is right despite risk, uncertainty, and fear; we candidly express our professional judgment to subordinates, peers and superiors.”
Leadership demands courage. Our mission, our duty and life itself require we reject cowardice—we accept risk, overcome adversity and face our fears. Our desired outcome, regardless of our best efforts in making decisions, planning and leading, is not assured. We realize we may be harmed in performing our duty and accomplishing the mission. The harm we fear may be physical, emotional or spiritual. To carry on requires courage, an attribute of our character and an Army Value. We communicate with candor and tact, seeking shared understanding and demonstrating courage by doing what is right despite risk, uncertainty and fear.
The soldiers of 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment-Delta and the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment; Company C, 2nd Battalion, 3rd Infantry Regiment; and the commander of the 10th Mountain Division all made decisions and took actions consistent with the moral principles of the Army Ethic. Their examples of character, competence and commitment in the conduct of their missions and performance of duty reflect their shared identity as trusted Army professionals.
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This Series in Action
This is the first in a series of articles that will use vignettes to illustrate the Army Ethic in action. Each vignette is a true story about soldiers and, in future articles, Army civilians, demonstrating character, competence and commitment to accomplish the mission in the right way. The intent is to strengthen understanding of the Army Ethic and inspire honorable service within the Army profession.
The Center for the Army Profession and Ethic (CAPE) at West Point invites your contributions to this effort and asks you to share your stories and reflections, inspiring all of us to honorably fulfill our oaths of service. Contact retired Lt. Col. Peter C. Kinney III at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more about CAPE, visit http://cape.army.mil.