Army Ethics

Future LTs,
MAJ Heverly again this week. This may seem like a “do the right thing topic” and it is, essentially.  But it is essential to your careers or lives in general to learn about what is expected of you and how the organization you are joining expects you to act and lead.  Ethics…definitely one of those nebulous topics that folks always talk about. Even at this level the largest glaring issue is that when ethics are discussed there seems to be an unmentioned rule or foundation that everyone has the same sense of right and wrong. The understanding of where the Army is coming from when it talks about ethical leadership or behavior is the first step in steering clear of pitfalls or mistakes that, in the case of ethical violations, can end your career in a heartbeat. When it comes to ethics, the Army is still very “zero-defect.” There are several areas that mistakes are allowed and at the 2LT-level even expected, being late, not performing to standard (yet), those kinds of things. But when it comes to mistakes that are unethical, it can be a one way ticket to the unemployment line. This is not only true of the Army, look at the numerous heads of large companies that have been given the boot recently due to ethical issues. Sometimes we blend morals and ethics into the same category and while they are close, they aren’t the same. Ethics is the application of a set of values. Fortunately for us, the Army tells us what our morals should be and judges our decisions by these. From FM 6-22, “4-63. Ethics are concerned with how a person should behave. Values represent the beliefs that a person has. The seven Army Values represent a set of common beliefs that leaders are expected to uphold and reinforce by their actions.” We may not all share them in our personal lives but that is a chance you take…if you mess up, DIU for example, you will be judged by the Army by its values and probably find that you made an unethical decision. FM 6-22 lays it out like this “4-56. Doing the right things is good. Doing the right thing for the right reason and with the right goal is better.” The foundation for the Army’s sense of right and wrong is the Judeo-Christian sense of right and wrong. (How that came to be is a history lesson and why it still is…well that is a whole other topic) The bottom line is this…do what is right and hold your Soldiers to the same standard that the Army holds you to and you will be heading in the right direction.
I will give you one quick examples from my experience as a commander. One, I had a Soldier who was accused of messing around with another Soldier’s (not from my unit) wife. My Soldier was seen with her several times by several different people. When the 1SG confronted him, we found out that the wife was filing for divorce and that the marriage would be over “soon.” So, do we punish him? Is he breaking a UCMJ code (adultery)? Does it matter if, seeing as how the marriage is almost over and the other Soldier wasn’t even in our Battalion? These are all questions that came up. The hard right is called that for a reason. It would have been easier just to let things go. We wound up giving him a lawful order to avoid contact with the spouse until/if such time arose that the divorce was final.
If you are interested in a longer example use this link to a report of an incident in Iraq in 2005 that cost a LTC his career. For more, do a search for the Tailhook scandal and see how that incident and the unethical decisions cost the Navy some of what it thought was its top officers. The Army is looking for not only tactically and technically proficient people; it is also looking for good people.  In the Army, ethical decisions, especially in combat, often involve the lives of Soldiers and un-armed civilians; sons and daughters of our country and those nations in which we operate are irreplaceable.  That is why studying ethics is not a waste of time or just another “do the right thing” topic…it isn’t preaching, it is trying to instill in you the knowledge and skill to make the right decision, sometimes very quickly when the bullets are flying on the two-way target range of combat.
Now, I look forward to your questions.
MAJ Brian Heverly

    • Halo33
    • November 23rd, 2009

    How would you keep your unit to uphold the army ethics in everyday life? As in promoting the upkeeping of the valuable army ethics.

    • Sigfried
    • November 26th, 2009

    I understand the morals and ethics expected of our soldiers and of ourselves are outlined in the 6-22 and possibly other handbooks, but are there other ways to ensure our soldiers know the ‘rules?’ Also, is there a way to talk to our soldiers about ethics without sounding preachy? I understand it is not preaching, but not everyone views it in the same manner.

    • kuarmyrotc
    • November 26th, 2009

    Sigfried and Halo, ethics can be something taught by example to a great extent. Soldiers are like younger siblings, they watch and learn faster than they learn from being told something. You can give all the ethics classes you want but if you walk out the door and show them a different example…you just changed the standard and there is no one to blame but yourself. In that vein, you have to watch your NCOs behaviors as well, from “breaking up” a conversation that is a little too raunchy that gets loud enough to be overheard to counseling young NCOs (or seeing that they are) when they pin on stripes…more than just a paycheck has changed and they are now role models whether they like it or not. The same is true of you all…the same behavior that is “OK” for a college student is all of a suddent not OK for a 2LT in the US Army 24 hours later, been there done that.

    Hope that clears it up a little.
    MAJ H

    • Ahhhhh!!!
    • November 29th, 2009

    MAJ H,
    You mentioned counseling. Since general counseling of soldiers is NCO business, how do I go about making sure that what I want covered in counseling on ethical behavior, both on and off duty, is covered, short of writing the counseling form for my SLs and PSGs and then just having them present the counseling form to the soldiers?

    • stewiegriffin519
    • November 30th, 2009


    What are some common violation of ethics that 2LT’s make that we need to be aware of and avoid? Also, what can we do if we see a fellow LT doing something inappropriate or someone who is higher in rank than ourselves?

    • CDT Coco
    • December 3rd, 2009

    If I understand correctly the PL can be held to some degree of responsibility when a soldier in his unit breaks a major moral law like killing an EPW or something. Even with all the briefs and counselings how can we, as new PLs, prevent such events when some soldiers (people in genereal) are just either evil by nature or do the random stupid thing?

    • supercaliburfragbalistic
    • December 3rd, 2009

    MAJ Heverly, can you tell us about an ethical dilema you faced an how you applied the Military Ethical Decision Making Process to the situation?
    Than you.

    • Pork Soda
    • December 3rd, 2009

    I have seen some shake downs for AER and a lot of pressure put on whenever a beret was passed around for donations. At what point does this go from generous giving to unethical.

    • Shake and Bake
    • December 3rd, 2009

    When dealing with cultures who don’t share our same ethical situation, how do we balance our ethics with accomplishing the mission. For example, Islam in the middle east does not have as high a regard for females as we do. How do CO’s handle issues like that? Do we just go along to get along for the sake of establishing good relationships with the native population, or do we try to change the cultural?

    • Dragon
    • December 3rd, 2009

    To build off of Pork Soda, when does competetion between companies in a BN for rasing the most in an AER compaign become unethical? Also, while gambleing is prohibited, why are office pools still so common, and when do friendly wagers (of non-monetary value) become gambling?

    • Jack
    • December 3rd, 2009

    While flying to LDAC a number of cadets that were on the same flight as I were wearing ACUs. Because the airline wanted to thank them for their service they upgraded them to first class and they accepted the offer. Our ROTC text book considers this to be an offense. Assuming they were to get punished for this what type of punishment would it be since it is not a major offense but it is still an offense none the less?

    • Johnny B. Green
    • December 3rd, 2009


    You mentioned common “2LT level” mistakes, like showing up late, or not preformed to standard (yet). What are some ethical decisions Jr. Leaders and Sr. Leaders for that matter, face on a daily basis, both at home and in theater?

    • Smooth
    • December 3rd, 2009

    How understanding is the Army regarding decisions that fall into a moral gray area? Obviously a lot of decisions are hard to categorize as right or wrong, if you explain your decision and why you thought it was the right thing to do, will your superiors generally accept that decision?

    • Blazer
    • December 3rd, 2009

    What are some of the more difficult moral or ethical decisions that will be made when overseas? Is their still major consequences if you are meaning to make the right choice but still pick wrong?

    • армейский кадет
    • December 4th, 2009

    Similarly to Shake and Bake’s question: how do you uphold your goals ethically, while working with a cultural that does not share the same values as us. Also if the allies your helping aren’t ethical in their own ways, how do we handle working with them?

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