by Colonel (Retired) Wes Martin

The landscape of the United States military is primarily composed of sincere and dedicated individuals who wish to do what is right. Yet during the past decades, the armed services have been faced with one series of scandals after another. Rather than asking when it will all end, leadership should be trying to figure out where it all began and identify the source of the problems. If this is done, military leadership, at all levels, will be faced with the same realization made by the cartoon character Pogo: "We have met the enemy and he is us".

This "enemy" can be broken down into two elements. The first is the problem individuals who bring discredit to their respective branches. The second element is the seniors who always find it more convenient to look the other way and pretend nothing is wrong, rather than enforce accountability. In any society, if laws and rules are not enforced they have no value.

The first element is not limited to junior grade personnel. In fact, the impact created by junior grade soldiers is rather minimal. It is the antics of officers and NCOs in positions of authority who cause most of the damage. If a young service-member commits a Uniform Code of Military Justice violation, that person will soon be standing in front of the commander's desk. Let an officer or senior NCO commit the same violation and the punishment (if any) will be much less severe.

This brings us to the second element and the true source of most of the scandals: the seniors who fail to hold subordinate officers and NCOs accountable for their behavior and inability to perform their assigned duties. In the 1990s the Navy learned of the need for accountability because of Tailhook and the subsequent cover-up. The Air Force learned through the downing of the blackhawks which was followed by glowing evaluations of those responsible.

Concurrently the CIA learned of the need for accountability through the investigation of Aldrich Ames. The inspector general of the CIA, Frederick Hitz, described convicted spy Aldrich Ames in this way: "His managers were content to tolerate his nonproductivity, clean up after him when he failed, find well-chosen words to praise him and pass him on with accolades to the next manager".

The CIA IG's comments about Aldrich Ames could well apply to the majority of substandard officers and NCOs in the armed forces. Bad apples don't turn suddenly. They continue to get worse because they are never held accountable. They have no interest in the defense of the nation nor the needs of the service-members assigned to them. Only what personally and immediately benefits them is important. They see service-members assigned to them only as a means to the end.

These bad apples will not hesitate to make "examples" out of the good subordinates who cross them, but rarely will a senior commander make an example out of a bad apples. Instead, we continually witness substandard officers and NCOs being given "nice" evaluations because their seniors don't want to expose a problem within their command. In turn, these problems are passed on to someone else with the possibility that justice will someday be rendered by a senior exercising the principles of courage, competence, and commitment. “Leadership by example" cannot be achieved in an environment where the unqualified and self-serving are being protected, retained and promoted.

A common excuse for scandals we are now experiencing is that the military is a reflection of the civilian sector. However, civilians don't run around chanting "duty, honor, country" while using phrases like "be, know, do". Former Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force, Arthur Andrews, best stated the difference between the two societies, "...our military career is not just another job. It calls for self-sacrifice, not self-interest. It calls for self-discipline, not self-indulgence".

Furthermore, if a civilian employee is caught in a bad environment, he or she has options which are not available to military personnel. Self-termination of employment is one and filing a lawsuit is another. In the U.S. military, a service-member does not self-terminate employment without legal consequences and perhaps prison time.

Concerning the ability to file a lawsuit, corrupt seniors are the first to hide behind the War Powers Act. Unless we have a professional environment where the Uniform Code of Military Justice is equally applied and the concept of accountability is enforced for all, we end up with a no win situation for service-members who must endure the environment.

Senior leaders need to honestly evaluate themselves against the West Point Prayer. "Strengthen and increase our admiration for honest dealing and clean thinking, and suffer not our hatred of hypocrisy and pretense ever to diminish. Encourage us in our endeavor to live above the common level of life. Make us choose the harder right instead of the easier wrong, and never be content with half a truth when the whole can be won. Endow us with the courage that is borne of loyalty to all that is noble and worthy, that scorns to compromise with vice and injustice and knows no fear when truth and right are in jeopardy".

Too many officers and non-commissioned officers of the United States military operate in total contradiction of this prayer. One of the saddest truths about military leadership is that when a senior is exposed for wrong doing, that person's senior will usually do little or nothing about it. A frequent excuse is that further exposure will harm the reputation of the military. Wrong answer! The reputation of the U.S. Armed Forces has already been injured by the antics of the exposed individual. Failure to take action encourages further misbehavior. The majority of the time, the only one made into an "example" is the one who exposed the problem.

General Patton stated, "There has been a great deal of talk about loyalty from the bottom to the top. Loyalty from the top to the bottom is much more important, and also much less prevalent". This is especially true when seniors look the other way and do not hold subordinate officers and NCOs accountable for their behavior.

A lot of publicity is currently being directed towards the military for letting down its female service-members. The leadership has let down female service-members. The leadership has also let down all service-members who want to ensure that the U.S. military is a fair and honest place to serve.

That same leadership has long since been warned that serious problems exist that go far beyond sexual harassment. We treat cancer when it eats away at a body's ability to function. Lack of accountability is a cancer that has been eating away at integrity within our armed forces.

When Congress and the American press become aggressively involved, military leadership tries to correct symptoms, not the root cause. Rather than trying to minimize the effects of the scandals, leaders should dedicate themselves to developing an environment that promotes integrity and enforces justice.

We can talk theory about how the system is supposed to work. However the attention the armed forces are now receiving proves that the system is broken. It will never be repaired until violators of the UCMJ, no matter what rank, are held totally accountable. If that includes taking actions to end the careers of self-serving officers and NCOs, then so be it. We must stop undermining the effectiveness of the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines by protecting those who are out for themselves.

The two most important missions we have between wars are to maintain readiness and prepare for the next conflict. We can't achieve maximum results when lives of dedicated and honest service-members are either being destroyed or compromised by bad officers and NCOs. Furthermore, we can't expect subordinates to willingly risk death in wartime when senior leadership will not stand up for them in peacetime.

Unfortunately, too many good people have been leaving the ranks because of the bad. These departing service-members will never become tomorrow's outstanding leaders. This loss will be felt most on the future battlefield. The price will be paid with the blood and lives of young Americans.

So in the meantime where does this leave professional service-members who do remain in the ranks? The answer is that they continue the work to maintain a professional force. Yet, they are part of a system under attack because of the antics of the corrupt element. Meanwhile, the officers and NCOs who wish to make a career out of serving their nation must compete for retention and promotion against those who have oriented their lives to looking out for themselves. Also, professionals must always be concerned about being assigned to a command supervised by someone who has always escaped accountability. A hard charging, dedicated service-member who is subordinate to a serious problem is in a no-win situation. When it comes time for a scape-goat, the dedicated service-member will take the fall. Eventually the problem officer or NCO will move on to another assignment and continue with more self-serving antics. Meanwhile, others will be left behind to pick up the pieces of broken commands and the ashes of destroyed careers.

New York Police Department detective Frank Serpico said it best, "We must create an atmosphere in which the dishonest officer fears the honest one and not the other way around". Although Serpico was referring to law enforcement officers, the same is true for officers and non-commissioned officers of the military.

Failure to act and hold accountable those who have clearly made a mockery of the Uniform Code of Military Justice is already serving as justification for the need for externally mandated reform. The four branches may get something that will be much more difficult to live with than something it implemented itself. General Max Thurman was very fond of saying, "When in charge, take charge". Concerning accountability, it is long since time for someone to take charge. Until we push for professional dynamic leadership in our ranks and enforce the concept of accountability in all ranks, we will never "Be all we can be".