Professionals in the United States Army stand apart from others engaged in particular careers in the civilian world. While many vocations contain some of the characteristics of professional, a lot of careers do not include all of the elements necessary to distinguish themselves as being as close to a professional as a United States soldier. Professionalism grows depending on the time and service they have in the Army.
A professional has specialized knowledge and skill which can only be acquired through prolonged education and experience. Such skill and experience form the basis of objective standards of professional competence that separate the practicing professional from their peers and measure the competence of such professional. This professional knowledge must also be intellectual in nature.
The second characteristic of professionalism is responsibility. General responsibility creates the moral responsibility of soldiers and helps us understand the set of values which guide us. In addition, however, soldiers must also possess the values of other human beings and question service to a society which does not respect these values.
These values include justice, common courtesy, human dignity and humbleness. A government which does not respect these values is illegitimate and cannot be said to serve the society it directs. In the case of United States Army soldiers, the values of the United States must be examined in the context of the military profession. The Declaration of Independence and the Constitution provide clear statements of these values and Ethics. Ethics are standards by which one should act based on values.
Values are core beliefs such as duty, honor, and integrity that motivate attitudes and actions. Not all values are ethical values (integrity is; happiness is not). Ethical values relate to what is right and wrong and thus take precedence over nonethical values when making ethical decisions. Honesty. Being truthful, straightforward, and candid are aspects of honesty. Truthfulness is required. Deceptions are usually easily uncovered. Lies erode credibility and undermine public confidence. Untruths told for seemingly altruistic reasons (to prevent hurt feelings, to promote good will, etc.) are nonetheless resented by the recipients.
Straightforwardness adds frankness to truthfulness and is usually necessary to promote public confidence and to ensure effective, efficient conduct of operations. Truths presented in such a way as to lead recipients to confusion, misinterpretation, or inaccurate conclusions are not productive. Such indirect deceptions can promote ill-will and erode openness, especially when there is an expectation of frankness. Candor is the forthright offering of unrequested information.
It is necessary according to the gravity of the situation and the nature of the relationships. Candor is required when a reasonable person would feel betrayed if the information were withheld. In some circumstances, silence is dishonest; yet in other circumstances, disclosing information would be wrong and perhaps unlawful. Integrity.
Being faithful to one’s convictions is part of integrity. Following principles, acting with honor, maintaining independent judgment, and performing duties with impartiality help to maintain integrity and avoid conflicts of interest and hypocrisy. Loyalty. Fidelity, faithfulness, allegiance, and devotion are all synonyms for loyalty. Loyalty is the bond that holds the nation and the Federal Government together and the balm against dissension and conflict. It is not blind obedience or unquestioning acceptance of the status quo. Loyalty requires careful balancing among various interests, values, and institutions in the interest of harmony and cohesion. Accountability.
Soldiers are required to accept responsibility for their decisions and the resulting consequences. This includes avoiding even the appearance of impropriety. Accountability promotes careful, well-thought-out decisionmaking and limits thoughtless action. Fairness. Open-mindedness and impartiality are important aspects of fairness. Soldiers must be committed to justice in the performance of their official duties. Decisions must not be arbitrary, capricious, or biased. Individuals must be treated equally and with tolerance.
Caring. Compassion is an essential element of good government. Courtesy and kindness, both to those we serve and to those we work with, help to ensure individuals are not treated solely as a means to an end. Caring for others is the counterbalance against the temptation to pursue the mission at any cost. Respect. To treat people with dignity, to honor privacy, and to allow self-determination are critical in a government of diverse people. Lack of respect leads to a breakdown of loyalty and honesty within a government and brings chaos to the international community.
No government can function for long if its commitments are not kept. Soldiers are obligated to keep their promises in order to promote trust and cooperation. Because of the importance of promisekeeping, leaders must only make commitments within their authority.
Professionalism is a subject that is near and dear to my heart. Professionalism is important for all of us who are part of the military institution in both active and Reserve components. It is important for all of us who love and respect the Army. We live in a time of change for the Army, and, as in all institutions during times of change and change in leadership, we need to emphasize leadership and return to the core values that are the foundation of our system.
With the example of carelessness and other lapses in our leadership in the Army, it is important for us to go back and reexamine ourselves. It is vital for everyone who wears the Army uniform, to have consideration for others(superiors, peers and subourdinates) and for Army values. We must constantly remind ourselves of that. We all know what Army values are-the timeless values of loyalty, duty, respect, honor, selfless service, integrity, and personal courage-pronounced as leadership.
Those are the values that have carried us as an institution over the years and have kept us professional at all times. Rarely does anyone talk about the next step or higher plain. I will give my perception of what I define as professionalism. In reading a number of quotes about the military calling, the one I like best is that of John F. Kennedy speaking to the graduating class of the Naval Academy in Annapolis, “What you have chosen to do for your country is the greatest contribution a man can make.”
While professionalism is the basis of military service, it consists of many parts. One part is overcoming challenges. There will be many challenges over the next decades. In order to be successful, this nation needs soldiers with a level of skills, talents, drive and professionalism that we have not really experienced before, except in wartime. We must attain that degree of professionalism in the peacetime environment. Our leaders must be creative, innovative and exploit any opportunity to ensure the effective contribution of the Army to our military strategy and to national security. Professionalism was always leadership.
The message is all to clear. The Army is not a place where anyone can afford to drift along. We need to study leadership in our duties and professional education. The practice of leadership must be constant. Clearly, the scope of professionalism has changed. The idea that we can be professionals at another time, and not be professionals all the time, has changed also.
Today, professionalism is a shared approach. Reservists must be as professional as the active components that they support and the actives they sometimes replace. We must avoid the shortcuts in our units that create our own problems, for example, when we try to promote specialists to sergeants without a thorough grasp on whether or not they’re ready to be a leader, or abuse their power against good soldiers, or turn our heads and choose quantity over quality. Without the attention to professionalism, we lose the edge we have.
Professionalism is mentoring, passing on the example and the values of professionalism. As leaders we all have a responsibility to pass on the torch and to mentor our subordinates. For the good of all our soldiers, my challenge to all of us is to monitor and encourage professionalism and inject that Army professionalism into the joint arena. Professionalism is being ready. If I may quote a line in the soldier’s creed, “I stand ready to deploy, engage and destory the enemies of the united states of america in close combat..”
Our relevance to the mission of the modern Army is measured in what we can provide and accomplish today and not what we can provide at some time in the future to meet some vague threat.
Integral to the concept of professionalism is a common vision to provide trained and ready soldiers and units to America’s Army. That vision rests on the pillars of readiness, recruiting, retention, resources and community relations.
Professionalism also calls for physical and mental readiness. The missions that our government calls on us to perform today demand no less than physical and mental preparedness.
That is why we have a physicaly training test every six months. We are above the standard. Professionalism is also taking care of one’s own. We recruit soldiers: retain families. We need to make soldiers feel that they are a part of something very important and that they have a sense of camaraderie which comes from the confidence that they belong to an organization that is well run and which is doing meaningful and interesting things. Meeting the challenge of developing esprit de corps in soldiers and addressing the needs of the military families are fundamental to passing professionalism on to our soldiers.
Finally, professionalism means supporting the profession. You do that by supporting the organizations and associations that support the profession. If there is one message I would like to have you carry from this essay, it is that there is no greater supporter of professionalism than I. I do not need to remind you that the new leadership of the Army are all team players and we are here today to play the ballgame. We are here until the game is over. I invite you to join me in the coming years to increase the professionalism of our force.
A professional learns every aspect of the job. An amateur skips the learning process whenever possible. A professional carefully discovers what is needed and wanted. An amateur assumes what others need and want. A professional looks, speaks and dresses like a professional. An amateur is sloppy in appearance and speech. A professional keeps his or her work area clean and orderly. An amateur has a messy, confused or dirty work area. A professional is focused and clear-headed. An amateur is confused and distracted.
A professional does not let mistakes slide by. An amateur ignores or hides mistakes. A professional jumps into difficult assignments. An amateur tries to get out of difficult work. A professional completes projects as soon as possible. An amateur is surrounded by unfinished work piled on top of unfinished work. A professional remains level-headed and optimistic. An amateur gets upset and assumes the worst.
A professional handles money and accounts very carefully. An amateur is sloppy with money or accounts. A professional faces up to other people’s upsets and problems. An amateur avoids others’ problems. A professional uses higher emotional tones: Enthusiasm, cheerfulness, interest, contentment. An amateur uses lower emotional tones: anger, hostility, resentment, fear, victim. A professional persists until the objective is achieved. An amateur gives up at the first opportunity.
A professional produces more than expected. An amateur produces just enough to get by. A professional produces a high-quality product or service. An amateur produces a medium-to-low quality product or service. A professional has a promising future. An amateur has an uncertain future.
Years of war, continuous combat deployments, and ongoing manpower reductions have stressed the Army. A mission-first culture coupled with unending pressing priorities have prevented the Army from first learning and then reflecting on the lessons of the past 14 years.
Advances in tactics, technology, and the ever-changing composition of the force require acknowledgement and contemplation. One thing, however, remains constant: the Army, as a profession of arms, provides a unique service of national defense to the American people and each soldier, as a professional, commits to service and training in support of that objective.
Defining the Army as a Profession
Before we can define the Army as a profession, we must first define what a profession is. Defining a profession is a field of study, but for the sake of brevity we’ll use a four-part definition:
- Professions produce uniquely expert work
- Professionals require years of study and practice
- Professions earn the trust of their clients through their ethic
- Professions motivate through inspirational and intrinsic factors (U.S. Army 2010, 2)
The Army’s uniquely expert work is national defense and the exercise of land power in support of national objectives. Additionally, the structure of our government and armed forces acknowledges this expert knowledge. So how does the Army achieve this trust?
First, it has career-long education and training courses that cover both the enlisted and officer corps. Additionally, even young soldiers must be considered aspiring professionals due to their commitment to training and service in the profession of arms. We place enormous responsibility on our young soldiers, such as the M240B gunner firing on the support-by-fire for an infantry assault or the intelligence analyst given a Top Secret clearance and expected to evaluate national secrets. In return we charge these young soldiers to provide expert work in their assigned duty and in accordance with their training. As soldiers learn and grow, their body of expert knowledge increases in both breadth and depth, and the level of responsibility grows. After all, a physician does not have the same knowledge as the orthopedic surgeon and even together they lack the knowledge that a Dean of a Medical School may have regarding Healthcare. Yet all three belong to the same profession and are considered professionals.
The American people place great trust in the Army, allowing us to regulate our own ranks through our ethic. Without this great trust in our self-policing ethic, the Army could not be termed a profession; similar say, to medical boards. The self-policing ethic is demonstrated by the Army’s administering of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, as well as our ability to impose other, non-judicial, punishments. Additionally, the Army governs itself with administrative actions, such as bars to re-enlistment, reduction boards and involuntary separations. Less formal actions govern our everyday actions. In categories that range from haircuts, uniform standards, and training quality, the Army is self-policing and governed with little to no outside interference. The U.S. Supreme Court itself has traditionally given the military a much wider latitude to restrict Constitutional rights in the name of military necessity. Furthermore, even when the Army is called to task by outside agencies, such as Congress, the media, or the American people, we are trusted to conduct our own investigations and punish the offenders ourselves.
Lastly, the Army is unarguably defined as a profession by the use of intrinsic rewards to motivate our professionals. Service to the nation is stressed in the Soldier’s Creed and duties to fellow soldiers are espoused in the Warrior Ethos. These commitments are drilled into soldiers from their first day of training and reinforced through professional education throughout their career. Soldiers are rewarded for outstanding performance using selective Army schools such as Pathfinder School or Ranger School. The soldier’s thirst for knowledge is what makes these schools their own reward and other Soldiers respect and value the knowledge gained at these schools.
Defining the Army Professional
A member of the Army does not simply become an Army professional overnight. The Army professional, as a member of the Profession of Arms, is bound to uphold two great commitments. The first is commitment in service of the American people. Our government derives its authority from the will of the people and through this we receive our mandate to uphold and preserve the Constitution. The second commitment of the Army professional is to his or her fellow soldiers. The lethality of our profession demands that we care for and trust in the soldiers to our left and right. Taken together, these two commitments define the Army professional.
Our commitment to service to the American people is the bedrock upon which the character of the Army professional is built. This commitment acknowledges that all power in the government is derived from the will of the people, that through this will the Constitution was written and that our loyalty extends from the Constitution to the lawfully elected and appointed civilian representatives of the American people. Our loyalty to the American people governs our conduct as well. The Army professional has a duty to serve honorably and represent the American people such that we do not bring shame upon our nation through misconduct. The people have granted us a burden of sacred trust that we must not violate, even in the most trying circumstances of combat.
The second commitment that defines an Army professional is directly related to combat and the unique lethality of the profession of arms. This commitment to our fellow soldiers demands study and training in order that our subordinates, peers, and superiors trust in our skill and judgment to navigate stressful, and often lethal, situations. This lethality imposes a moral obligation on the Army professional to be well trained and competent. To use my earlier example, even while training for a Live Fire Exercise (LFX), Soldiers must trust that the machine gunners have the training, competence and professionalism to expertly place their cone of fire in order to lead the assault force across the objective, suppressing the enemy while still allowing the advance of friendly forces. One might even say we stake our very lives on their professionalism. The Army professional must recognize that soldiers are the most precious resource of the Army and that their lives are not to be needlessly wasted. This commitment is directly related to the first in that the American people trust the Army professional with their sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, husbands and wives and expect that we will bring them through combat as safely as possible.
That the Army is a profession is undeniable. The Army provides a unique service of national defense to the American people, provides educated and trained professionals, is trusted by the American people with a self-policing ethic, and relies on the intrinsic rewards of service to motivate Army professionals. These Army professionals are defined by their commitment to selfless service to the American people and their duty to honor the service and sacrifices of their fellow soldiers. These are the expectations required of an Army professional, without which our service cannot retain the trust of our employers, the American people.