Ethics Training – Mental Armor for Today’s Warrior

(The 4th Marine Aircraft Wing Combat and Operational Stress Control Program)




Colonel Juergen M. Lukas, USMC

LtCol Keith W. Pankurst, USMC

LCDR Michael S. Hogg, CHC USN



I wanted to shoot, but the only option would have been indiscriminately spraying the town with lead.  That is not my way; I am a warrior, not a savage.  If I could make a beast of myself, then things would be a lot different.  Something beyond rage had control of me, but not completely.  I kept a small thread of humanity, and so I could not pull the trigger, I will not allow myself to murder in a fit of wrath.  But, I did want to[1]


Knowing right from wrong and thereby making sound ethical decisions can be a challenge during the best of times.  In a combat situation like the one described above, where then Corporal Van Wey is faced with having to come to terms with an ambush on his patrol—administering first aid to a friend that has just lost both his legs and having to control a chaotic situation—making the right decision could be the difference between keeping one’s humanity and character intact, or losing oneself to the savagery and psychological trauma of human conflict.[2]  It has been said that ‘war is hell,’ and it is only through proper preparation, that today’s warrior can survive the most toxic and corrosive environment known to mankind.[3]     

            Unfortunately, although humankind has engaged in armed combat since the dawn of time and from the first thrown rock, there have probably been psychological casualties of war, warrior preparation has historically been one sided.  Warriors of old and today’s Marines, Soldiers, Sailors, and Airmen have been trained to kill, but have never been fully prepared to cope with the psychological and moral ramifications of combat.  Today’s military service members need more than just hard, realistic combat training, they also need to fully understand their role as warriors, as Paladins, as protectors of our society.  With that understanding comes a requirement for focused warrior ethics training, combined with an appreciation for the moral implications of military duty, and an awareness of combat and operational stress and how to mitigate its effects.

In light of the realities of the current war and to answer this need for better warrior preparation, the 4th Marine Aircraft Wing (MAW) is developing a Combat and Operational Stress Control (COSC) Program.  This program seeks to increase the combat readiness of the force and to mitigate the potential catastrophic effects of combat and operational stress for its Marines, Sailors, and their families.  This short monograph will outline the 4th MAW COSC program, with special emphasis on the use of warrior focused ethics training.  By addressing the age-old questions of the ethical and moral implications of military duty through a rigorous education and continuous mentoring program, it is anticipated that the command’s Marines and Sailors will develop a clear standard of ethical conduct in and out of battle, and thus help mitigate any adverse psychological effects of combat—they will develop mental, emotional, and spiritual armor, and thereby become better prepared warriors for the “Long War.” [4]             

4th MAW Combat and Operational Stress Control (COSC) Program


…an understanding of the specific nature of catastrophic war experiences that not only cause lifelong disabling psychiatric symptoms but can ruin good character.[5]


Preserving ‘good character’ and mitigating potential disabling psychiatric problems due to catastrophic war experiences is what the 4th MAW COSC program is intended to do.  Based on the current world situation, the need for better warrior training has never been greater.  The “Global War on Terror” is now in its fifth year, with no foreseeable end to what has been aptly termed “the Long War” by General James Conway, 34th Commandant of the Marine Corps.  In Iraq and Afghanistan, the war has seen periods of intense close and urban combat.  Some Marines have deployed for as many as seven full combat tours.  Even within the reserve component of the Marine Corps, such as 4th MAW, some Marines have made four deployments to the region.  Psychological casualties, to include Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), are a reality for 4th MAW as well as throughout the Marine Corps.  Equally disturbing is an apparent increase in post-combat risk behavior.  Increased alcohol and drug use, episodes of misconduct (to include criminal violations of the laws of armed conflict), domestic violence, suicides, and reckless behavior leading to motor vehicle and other mishaps are potential indicators of a cultural backlash within the military.[6] [7] [8]

To comprehensively address these complex issues, the 4th MAW COSC program is comprised of three major elements of education, training, and mentoring:

1.  Affirmation of Marines and Sailors as warriors and societal defenders

2.  Warrior Ethics and the moral implications of the profession of arms

3.  Combat and Operational Stress Control awareness and mitigation 


Each of these components have been incorporated in a number of senior leadership conferences and have been the subject of multiple pre and post deployment briefings for service members and their families.  Most recently, a ‘train the trainer’ program has been started in which a cadre of COSC ‘Warrior Advocates’ or subject matter experts has received extensive education and training in these areas to allow each subordinate element of 4th MAW to conduct its own on-going education, training, and mentoring program.

            The first element of the 4th MAW COSC program—the role of the warrior and as such, societal defender—is primarily based on the works of LtCol David Grossman.  At issue, is that while the Marine Corps already has a long established history of warrior ethos and warrior excellence, the day to day relevance and importance of what it means to be a warrior in today’s society is often lost on Marines and Sailors.  However, to help service members come to terms with the potential for their own involvement in the “Long War,” they and their families must clearly understand and must accept what it means to be a warrior.  The warrior has the awesome responsibility to protect society by the application or threat of controlled violence, he recognizes and counters the dangers of the world, but he must do so according to a strict code of conduct or he becomes what he is sworn to defeat—a savage sociopath, a criminal, a wolf that preys on the helpless.  As a warrior, you must “engage your brain before you engage your weapon.”[9]  LtCol Grossman’s books On Killing and On Combat, and his exceptional training video “The Bullet Proof Mind,” have been superb references for this critical element of the program.[10]  Grossman’s excellent warrior analogy of the medieval Paladin or Knight and their code of chivalry clearly identifies the role and responsibilities of today’s warrior.

Additionally, the 4th MAW COSC program takes full advantage of the warrior training already provided by the Marine Corps Martial Arts Program (MCMAP).[11]  MCMAP was intentionally developed to focus on the warrior ethos of the Marine Corps.  More than a physical fighting form, MCMAP molds “the mental, character, and combative disciplines to embed Marines with the ability to honorably deal with the moral dimensions of combative conflicts, to make ethical decisions in life, and to equally respect all humans.”[12] 

The ethical and moral dimensions of the 4th MAW COSC program will be detailed in the next section of this paper.  The remaining element of the program is centered on a system of progressive and recurring training that helps to identify and mitigate stress related maladies and prepare the force for future combat deployments.  This system develops the necessary understanding and coping skills, from the highest levels of leadership to the newest private, to identify and manage the normal human reactions to stress and trauma from everyday issues to the extremes of combat and operational stress.  In addition to this on-going training, pre and post Deployment Warrior Transition training briefs are given to specific units that are about to deploy or have recently returned from a deployment.  These briefs are tailored for their respective audience of Marines and Sailors, or their families.  The information provided educates and prepares the recipients for the realities of separation and the many challenges of deployment to include the stresses of combat duty, the complexities of reunion, and the unique dynamics families experience at that time.  Of particular note, the unusual requirements faced by the reserve component are highlighted throughout the program.  The COSC program identifies every unit and member, seeking to ensure that everyone is given the proper training and pos-deployment care so that no one is left behind.  Deliberate measures have been incorporated standardizing the level of care throughout this widely dispersed and very diversified wing. 

4th MAW Ethics Training – Mental Armor for today’s Warrior


There’s right and there’s wrong, and nothing in between.[13]


Warrior ethics and the moral implications of the profession of arms are the heart and soul of our curriculum.  It builds on the Marine Corps’ long tradition of warrior excellence and Core Values of Honor, Courage, and Commitment by teaching Marines, Sailors, and to a great extend their families why it is important to have a stringent set of core values, a “warrior’s code," and the role they play in preserving their humanity.  It also gives service members and their families the tools to make ethical and effective decisions no matter what the circumstances. 

Throughout history, successful warrior cultures, from the ancient Spartans to modern-day elite military units, have had tough self-imposed standards of conduct that serve as ethical and moral boundaries, on and off the battlefield.  These “warrior codes” or core values provide honor and legitimacy to the profession of arms.  Core values cement in a warrior’s mind that within the boundaries of the “warrior’s code” his or her actions are both righteous and legitimate and thus ultimately play an essential role in the preservation of the warrior’s humanity.  Marines are trained to fight and take lives, however, it is essential that they execute their mission within certain parameters and take lives only under defined circumstances otherwise their actions are no better than murder.[14] 

In concert with the philosophies of the Marine Corps Martial Arts Program and the precepts of the Marine Corps’ Core Values, the ethics portion of the 4th MAW’s COSC program briefly examines past successful warrior cultures and the role of a warrior’s code.  We demonstrate not only how a Marine must act with his fellow Marines and his society, but also how he/she must act toward the enemies he may be called upon to fight, and the civilian populations of the countries within which he/she may operate in.  These ethical boundaries are vital for the preservation of a warrior’s humanity and serve to justify what is honorable.[15]  As Dr. Shay notes in his book, Achilles In Vietnam: Combat trauma and the Undoing of Character that "betrayal of what’s right," has significant negative impact on a warrior’s psyche and can lead to psychological damage in the form of severe combat stress or even PTSD. 

The Marine Corps has a long history of warrior ethos, which it uses as a means of self-identification and to build a sense of belonging to something greater then the individual.  For example, many Marine Corps recruiting commercials portray a knight fighting and slaying a dragon and then morphing into a Marine in his dress blues.  These commercials proved successful because they resonated with many young Americans who are idealists at heart and thrive on a challenge they consider an honorable endeavor.  Therefore, we discuss knights and their code of chivalry and the role it played in keeping their actions honorable and noble.  Another analogy from LtCol David Grossman’s book On Combat places the warrior ethos in the context of the sheepdog protecting its flock.  In this example, society as a whole is divided into three types of human beings: sheep, wolves, and sheepdogs.  The sheep is the average decent person who has no capacity for violence and often has no idea that wolves are out there to do him or her harm.  The wolves are the predators that prey on the sheep without remorse.  They represent the evil aspect of humanity—the savage sociopath, the criminal, or more aptly today, the terrorist.  Lastly, there are the sheepdogs, the police officers, soldiers, Marines—warriors-- whose job it is to protect the sheep from the predators--the wolves.[16]  Marines are the sheepdogs sworn to protect our country and its citizens, to kill the wolf when it threatens the flock, but to never harm the sheep.  This task of defending lawful society is an honor and a responsibility not to be taken lightly.  Being a sheepdog may result in social disapproval or even public scorn from the sheep.  Citizens of a country may not know how dangerous their world is and so may not recognize that sometimes violence is necessary to secure peace.  These two images of a sheepdog and the knight are an honorable ethos Marines must preserve on a daily basis.  Therefore, whether through combat or interaction with civilians, it is essential for today’s warrior to hold a moral high ground, which is the governance of behavior to achieve the political objectives of America.

Text Box: TrustworthinessText Box: FairnessText Box: RespectText Box: ResponsibilityText Box: CaringText Box: CitizenshipAll Marines and Sailors have the power to decide how they act and are morally responsible for the consequences of their actions.  This program uses the pedagogy of telling stories to challenge and guide Marines and Sailors in making exemplary ethical and effective decisions.  The basis for instruction is an adaptation of the precepts of the Josephson Institute of Ethics.  The Josephson Institute of Ethics founded and administers CHARACTER COUNTS and Ethics in the Workplace among other programs; designed to teach values to students, athletes, business people, and public servants.[17]  The 4th MAW COSC Program has adopted the Josephson Institute’s six pillars of character as foundational material to clarify and support the Navy and Marine Corps Core Values of Honor, Courage, and Commitment.  These six pillars of character are trust, respect, responsibility, fairness, caring, and citizenship.  The six pillars of character provide a structured framework through which guided discussions can be facilitated to assist Marines and Sailors to grasp the value and necessity of ethics on and off the battlefield.  Additionally, the Josephson Institute’s excellent primer entitled “Making Ethical Decisions” is used as resource material for ethical and effective decision-making.[18] 

At the heart of the ethics program is the 4th MAW Ethics Discussion Guide--a collection of vignettes written by Marines for Marines.  The vignettes are designed to provoke the reader into examining the role that ethics and our Core Values play in making exemplary ethical and effective decisions.  The vignettes are based on a spectrum of challenges ranging from daily life to the challenges and moral dilemmas that may be encountered in combat.  Ultimately, these vignettes and the Ethics Discussion Guide are intended for use by every Marine and Sailor to facilitate small unit leadership mentoring sessions that may be conducted in small informal groups in a school circle within a maintenance shop or on a dojo mat following Marines Corps Martial Arts training.  The goal is for a small unit leader to serve as a facilitator and provoke his Marines into thinking about how they would handle ethically challenging situations.  Every Marine and Sailor within 4th MAW is expected to teach, educate, advocate, and model ethical decision-making. 

To date, lectures and ethics mentoring sessions have been conducted with two classes going through Marine Aircraft Group 41’s Corporal’s Leadership Course and at the first 4th MAW COSC Program “Train the Trainer” course.  The results and student feedback from these courses have been inspirational.  The Marines and Sailors proved very enthusiastic about the material and clearly identified with the warrior analogies.  Discussion subjects varied from routine daily work related situations or family decisions, to combat scenarios that stressed the importance of ethical and moral values in making decisions in the corrosive atmosphere of combat.  Much as in the opening quote of this paper, this last point has both strategic and psychological ramifications.  As discussed by Dr. Shay in his book Achilles in Vietnam, dehumanizing, dishonoring, or distancing oneself from the enemy or foreign civilian population can lead to the “toxic psychological results,” which the 4th MAW COSC Program was intended to mitigate.  Furthermore, the profound discussions generated in these first few formal sessions and the superb learning points made by junior Marines served to validate the concept and will help refine this program as 4th MAW continues to incorporate it in COSC training, MCMAP, professional military education curricula, and as part of the Marine Crops Mentoring program.

  The ultimate objective of the ethics portion of the 4th MAW COSC Program is to make good Marines and Sailors better Marines and Sailors through sound ethical decision making based on a rededication to and better understanding of our Core Values and warrior ethos.  In addition to the anticipated psychological and operational benefits of warrior focused ethics training as an integral part of combat readiness and the COSC program, it is hoped that this on-going education, training, and mentoring will serve to curb the potential detrimental cultural backlash of prolonged combat during the “Long War.”  While no empirical data is currently available, helping service members and their families make ethical and effective decisions may significantly affect the perceived trend toward post-combat risk behavior such as increased alcohol and drug use, episodes of misconduct (to include criminal violations of the laws of armed conflict), domestic violence, suicides, and reckless behavior leading to motor vehicle and other mishaps. 




People sleep peaceably in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf.[19]


The United States and its allies are locked in a generational struggle against evil.  The “Long War” is upon us and we must do everything possible to prepare and preserve our warriors and their families.  For the 4th Marine Aircraft Wing, the Combat and Operational Stress Control Program is a vital part of both that preparation and that preservation.  By focused and continuing education, training, and mentoring 4th MAW has taken a step to not only train its Marines to kill, but to also prepare them to cope with the psychological and moral ramifications of combat.  More than just a method to identify and mitigate combat and operational stress, the 4th MAW COSC program is a means to attain personal and family combat readiness.  By providing a clearer understanding of the role of the warrior in today’s society and by giving our Marines, Sailors, and their families the tools to help them make ethical and effective exemplary decisions, they will develop mental, emotional, and spiritual armor, and thereby become better prepared warriors and supporters for the “Long War.”   

Chivalry is not dead; it has been awakened, strengthened, and given to a new generation of knights, Paladins, sheepdogs, and warriors—so that our people, our flock may sleep peaceably.



[1] Leila Fadel, “A Man of Words and Deed” Star-Telegram, October 12, 2004, n.p., on-line, Internet, available from

[2] Dr. Shannon French, “Why Do Warriors Need A Code?”, n.p., on-line, Internet, available from

[3] LtCol David Grossman, “The Bullet Proof Mind,” lecture series on DVD

[4] General James T. Conway, “34th Commandant of the Marine Corps-Commandant’s Planning Guidance,” on-line, Internet, available from

[5] Jonathon M. Shay, MD., PH.D., Achilies in Vietnam-Combat Trauma and the Undoing of Character (New York:   Scribner, 1994), xiii.

[6] Marine Corps Mentoring Program, Chief of Staff Brief, Jul 05, n.p., on-line, Internet, available from

[7] General M. W. Hagee, “On Marine Virtue” 25 May 2006, n.p., on-line, Internet, available from 

[8] Marine Warrior Preservation Campaign 2006, n.p., on-line, Internet, available from

[9] LtGen James N. Mattis, “Marine Commander Is Seen As Tough But Fair”, Los Angeles Times, 22 December 2006, n.p., on-line, Internet, available from 

[10] LtCol David Grossman, On Killing (New York: Back Bay Books, 1996) and On Combat (PPCT Research Publications, 2004)

[11] Marine Corps Martial Arts Program (MCMAP), Marine Corps Order 1500.54B, on-line, Internet, available from:

[12] LtCol Kevin Nally, “MARINE CORPS MARTIAL ARTS PROGRAM (MCMAP): THE END STATE,” n.p., on-line, Internet, available from

[13] James P. Owen, Cowboy Ethics (Ketchum, Idaho: Stoecklein Publishing, 2004), 64.

[14] Dr Shannon French, The Code of the Warrior (Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 2003), 3.

[15] French, The Code of the Warrior

[16] LtCol David Grossman, “On Sheep, Wolves and Sheepdogs,” n.p., on-line, Internet, available from

[17] Josephson Institute of Ethics and their instructional materials are available from; the “pillars of character” and other instructional material is used with the consent of the Josephson Instiute.

[18] Michael Josephson, “Making Ethical Decisions,” on-line, Internet, available from

[19] George Orwell