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What Do We Value?
J. D. Pendry
If you are wearing out car tires because your wheels are out of alignment, you can buy new tires that will soon wear out, or, you can align the wheels.
Noncommissioned officers are the front-line leaders of our Army. NCO business causes them to affect the lives of thousands of soldiers and their families each day. During a lifetime, their influence will affect many more than that.
Noncommissioned officers train new recruits, preparing them to meet the challenges of a dangerous world as a member of an unpredictable profession whose task it is to keep others safe. We ask them to take youngsters and instill in them a sense of responsibility, self-discipline and a work ethic that will make them positive contributors to the organization and the country. We also ask noncommissioned leaders to provide youngsters with the basic skills necessary for survival and instill in them values, character and self-discipline. They are the living example of the high standards soldiers must meet and the role models of character and ethics that soldiers will emulate. Their actions are scrutinized everyday, all day, on and off duty. They work under a set of high expectations that would easily bewilder one not committed to the work.
Without an effective noncommissioned officer corps and a system that supports the incredibly tough job they have, our Army would fail - completely and utterly. The question I pose is, as an institution, do we demonstrate by our actions that we value the things necessary to help our noncommissioned officers succeed?
I've never accepted that it should, but our Army increasingly reflects society outside of our gates. A softer, less disciplined, permissive society is providing leaders and soldiers for us. A society that often fights more vigorously for the rights of criminals than victims, and demonstrates each day that what it truly values directly contradicts what NCOs must instill in soldiers. Is that contradiction in stated values versus values acted out spilling over into the Army?
I was fortunate to spend a year teaching in a public high school following my retirement from the Army. An interesting parallel may help answer the question.... Do we demonstrate by our actions that we value the things necessary to develop young adults into responsible citizens?
Much like noncommissioned officers, public school teachers are the true front-line leaders of our country. Let's make a comparison.
Teachers prepare students to meet the challenges of daily life in an unpredictable world. We ask them to take youngsters and instill in them a sense of responsibility, self-discipline and a work ethic that will make them positive contributors to society. We also ask teachers to provide youngsters with the basic skills necessary for survival and instill in them values, character and self-discipline. They are the living example of the standards students must meet and the role models of character and ethics that they will emulate. Their actions are scrutinized everyday, all day, in and out of school. They work under a set of high expectations that would easily bewilder one not committed to the work.
Here's what I find most interesting. Considering the miraculous job both of these groups perform for our country, you'd think that the goals of the country and the Army should be to attract the best possible to these jobs and make it as easy as possible for them to succeed. Do we do that? Do we demonstrate by our actions that we value the things we ask both groups to do? Look at these:
On both fronts, our actions as a country and an Army do not align with what we claim to value - the best leaders who produce well disciplined and trained soldiers and youth prepared to protect and be productive members of our country.
Maybe I'm being illogical or overly idealistic, but shouldn't we want the best possible teachers for our students and first line leaders for our soldiers? Since that's what we profess to value, shouldn't the things we do - our actions - support that? It is after all actions not words that demonstrate what we truly value.
· In the Army, we make the job of training soldiers more difficult than it should be. We do this through such practices as gender-integrated basic combat training. This practice introduces many distractions into training that makes the job more difficult for the NCO trainers resulting in a lesser-trained soldier.
If we want the best trained soldiers, shouldn't we take every possible measure to make the job easier for the trainers? Instead of doing that, we actually look to make training easier for the soldier while coddling a civilian notion of gender integration that actually has no place in the basic indoctrination and training of soldiers - male or female.
· In public schools children dress in styles that make it possible to carry multiple weapons into a school undetected. They walk around with their heads plugged into music that encourages sex, drugs and violence.
When a school district suggests a dress code designed to help make a school safer, parents and the ACLU line up to protect the child's freedom of expression. If a principal decides to hang the Ten Commandments on the wall, or if a teacher should happen to mention an alternative to sex, drugs and rock and roll like maybe a faith based youth group they are breaking the law. Again, the actions of our nation do not show that we value safe schools and an environment that builds character.
· In the Army, we used to modify behavior by demanding that soldiers meet standards. We exercised unwavering discipline when someone engaged in behavior that was not in line with our stated values and principles.
What we have practiced in recent years is sensitivity training designed to change the way people think. The only thing that accomplishes is providing a bonehead with the opportunity to debate and often, in his own mind, justify unacceptable behavior. We've made it increasingly difficult for NCOs to enforce discipline, build the character of their soldiers, and modify their behavior.
Today's decisions always affect the future. If what we do does not align with what we state is important to us, we'll just keep wearing out the tires.