"The Moral Drill Sergeant:

On Teaching the 'Grunts' to do the Right Thing"

Dr. Pauline M. Kaurin

Pacific Lutheran University

"Chief Master Sergeant:

Lifts buildings and walks under them.

Kicks locomotives off their tracks.

Catches bullets in his teeth and eats them.

Freezes water with a single stare.

Talks to no one...HE IS GOD"1

The humorous, if technically inaccurate, chain of command that is reflected above points to a central truth in military life: the performance of the Non-Commissioned Officers is central to success of the military. Given this fact, combined with the increasing importance of ethics in the military, one would expect to find that the ethical training of NCO's would occupy a central place, as just as it does in the life of the officer corps. On the contrary, what one finds is a significant gap between the ethical training given the officer corps and that given the NCO's (particularly the more senior levels). I will argue that there is no compelling reason for this deficiency in ethical education; on the contrary, there are compelling reasons why all soldiers should have ethical training that is relevant and commensurate to their command responsibilities, regardless of whether they are officers or enlisted. This gap in the ethical chain of command poses serious problems and could actually be undermining the military's conspicuous emphasis on ethics from the top down. This is a situation that clearly requires remedy and I will give a thumbnail sketch of what such training might look like: the moral drill sergeant who drills in ethical maneuvers as well as strategic and combat ones.

This paper will be divided into four main elements. First, I will examine the importance and role of the Non-Commissioned officer in the life of the military, primarily through the eyes of the military itself. Second, I will look at the gap that emerges between the ethical training of officers and enlisted personnel by way of comparisons of training in the Air Force, Marine Corps and Army. Third, I will examine some possible arguments that might be made to justify such a gap and discuss the reasons for eliminating such a gap. Finally, I will give a thumbnail sketch which could serve as a starting point for discussion and debate on how this change might be effected in practical terms: a moral drill sergeant.


First, let us begin with the role that the non-commissioned officer plays in the life of the military. While the Non commissioned Officer (NCO) has many roles and duties, I want to focus on four central ones: commander, trainer, combat leader and ethical example. FM 22-100 (Military Leadership) describes the role of the NCO as follows:

"The NCO conducts the daily business of the Army within established orders, directives, and policies; concentrates on individual and team training which develops the capacity to accomplish the mission; is primarily involved with training individual soldiers and teams; concentrates on each subordinate NCO and solider and on small teams of the unit- to ensure that each is well trained, highly motivated, ready, and functioning; concentrates on standards of performance, training, and professional development of the NCO's and enlisted personnel; gets the job done."2

It is clear that NCO's are commanders in the same sense as the officers; the only difference may lie in the number of soldiers that one commands. The Non-Commissioned Officers Guide observes, "Command authority is not limited to commissioned officers...A commander is any leader who directs and controls soldiers as an official part of his duties..."3 In fact, there are no clear lines of division, according to responsibility, between the officers and the NCO's. The officer tends to focus on setting policy and carrying out the orders of his superiors at the unit level, as well as providing leadership and overseeing the professional development of the NCO's; while the NCO's essentially perform the same functions, with respect to smaller groups and individuals within the unit, providing leadership to and overseeing the professional development of the subordinate NCO's.

The NCO has command responsibility that is comparable to the officer corps; the NCO's directly supervise more than 80% of the soldiers in the Army.4 This makes their command responsibility one of the most crucial elements of their job, as well as one of the most crucial elements in the success or failure of the military as a whole. As General George Marshall once observed, " There should be no question about the importance of the NCO; unless he is well trained, highly disciplined, loyal and a leader you can expect very little from that organization."5

Secondly, the NCO has the responsibility for training the average soldier and ensuring that this soldier is prepared and capable of doing his or her job. According to the Infantry Field Manual, "The Non-Commissioned Officers are leaders and instructors in their units. All basic instruction of enlisted men is given by Non-Commissioned Officers"6 The NCO's are totally responsible for all elements of the training; they plan out how to best train the soldiers for a particular skill, they conduct the hands-on training and after the training they evaluate whether it has been successful. The NCO's are at the heart of the Army training, since they focus on training at the most individual and specific levels, often training soldiers in what one might view as the small things. However, it is these small, but crucial details (weapons cleaning and maintenance, sleeping, conserving ammunition) that can make the different between success and failure in combat; these details are the training concerns of the NCO's.7

In addition to training their soldiers for combat, the NCO also has the role of leader when they are in combat. While the NCO has direct control over his own soldiers, he also must be a leader by demonstrating good relations with and confidence in the commanding officers. Vietnam brought home the point that unit cohesion, which must include balanced relationships between all members - officers and enlisted alike - is one of the key factors that contributes to the success or failure of combat effectiveness.8 George Marshall insisted that, "The commander who lacks the moral courage and professional skill to develop and maintain a thoroughly competent corps of noncommissioned officers through out his command thereby demonstrates his inability to assume the responsibilities of leadership in combat"9 This will naturally effect the morale, since it is clear that success in combat depends on the leadership qualities and the abilities of the NCO. "In a very true sense an army is constructed by its non-commissioned officers, especially the top and senior duty sergeants, who...constitute the foundation of the service...An intelligent, forceful, fighting sergeant.. is one of the greatest agency in arousing the latent dynamic fighting force hidden in every red-blooded recruit."10

The NCO has historically played a crucial role in the combat effectiveness of the military:

"In battle after battle, when officers went down, Americans counted on a corporeal or a sergeant to take charge. It happened at Concord, when Minuteman NCO Amos Barrett of the Massachusetts Militia took charge after his lieutenant fell wounded....It happened at Landing Zone X-Ray in Vietnam when Sergeant Ernie Savage assumed command of a trapped platoon--he got them out. [In Mogadishu] with Rangers pinned down under fire, SGT. Bob Jackson led a relief force forward. 'Those are my guys,' he said, 'and I've got be helping them.' "11

In every war, there are numerous stories similar to those echoed above which testify to the NCO's stamina under fire, their ability to hold the units and their morale together or rally them at the critical moments, their willingness to risk themselves to save their men and their refusal to leave their men behind. Virtually every source on the subject reiterates the same refrain: it is the quality and nature of NCO leadership that makes the difference between victory and defeat in combat.

It is these very qualities of character that also makes the NCO, perhaps most importantly, a moral role model and living example of the warrior ethic and military honor. " They are the Army's soul because they represent and demand the soldierly virtues of dedication, and discipline, and sense of responsibility..."12 They represent these values and ideals even in times of change and turbulence; they are key to maintaining these standards and caring for the men in an increasing atmosphere of careerism and shrinking force sizes. Because of this fact, the NCO represents a crucial vehicle for continuity and moral stability in the eyes of both his soldiers and the officers. It is the NCO that they often seek out for advice, "Ask Sarge, he'll know what to do," and it is the NCO who is acutely aware of when the ethical line has been crossed or a value violated, since he lives and embodies these values - they are not just rules and regulations to him.


It should be clear from the resounding testimony elaborated above the critical role that is played by the NCO in the military. This role has certainly been recognized in concrete ways by the military establishment. There are calls for increased recognition for the NCO's, as well as calls for increased understanding of the relationship between the NCO and the officer and the NCO's contributions to this relationship. In addition, there has been a great deal of time and energy devoted to the establishment of NCO academies and other educational forums whose sole function is to foster the professional development of the NCO. In 1971, the NCO Educational System initiated a three level (forth and fifth level added later) system for enlisted career personnel. Its objectives were as follows: "...to increase the professional quality if the NCO corps; to provide enlisted personnel with opportunities for progressive, continuing professional development; to enhance career attractiveness and to provide the Army with trained and dedicated NCO's."13

It is clear that this commitment to the education and development of the NCO corps is a serious and deep one. In 1878 it was observed that, "If in future wars we would increase the chances of victory, and diminish the waste of human life, we should devote our attention to the education of our non-commissioned officers no less than the commissioned officers of our army."14 The rationale was, and still is applicable today, that as warfare became more complex and technological, it would place greater demands on both the officer and NCO. Therefore, the education should reflect this fact and strive to accomodate these needs. "Non-commissioned officers of all grades should be men...in whom the qualities of leadership have been developed to the highest possible degree along the same uniform and systematic lines as have those of their officers...The instruction of non-commissioned officers should also be coordinated and standardized."15

If these claims are true with regard to leadership qualities and the various technical skills that are necessary to fight and function in a modern army, one would also expect to find a similar commitment to the ethical development and education of the NCO's. Certainly, ethics has always been important in the military, but recently it has taken center stage. This has resulted in an increased concern with ethics on all levels, as evidenced by the increased focus on morals and ethics in military rhetoric and the visible changes and emphasis on ethics at the service academies. However, even a cursory look at the situation reveals that there are large discrepancies and serious deficiencies in the nature and scope of ethical education and development that the NCO receives, in comparison to the officer.

To begin with, let us examine the current state of ethical education and development at two of the service academies, West Point and the Air Force Academy, and at the ROTC program of a typical university. This, of course, is not to be an exhaustive discussion, but rather to give a representative sense of the range and scope; it would be well to bear in mind that there are differences of emphasis and type between the services and between the academies, ROTC and Officer Candidate School. Despite these differences, however, there is a strong consistency and clear emphasis on and commitment to giving the officer extensive ethical education and development.

At the Air Force Academy, ethical development (called character development) is one of four major areas of development, along with military, academic and physical development, that the cadets undergo during their four years. According to academy literature, the program is "Designed to develop cadet's professional military character through an emphasis on Air Force core values, the Honor Code, ethics instruction, human relations education and moral/spiritual development."16 This includes academic instruction in ethics, as well as ethical development that is integrated into the life and training of the cadet. This is evidenced by the honor code, activities that promote ethical learning and development as a part of academy life and the institution wide character development program focused on core values. The Academy experience, according to the literature, is designed to do four things:

"Produce professional officers who have the knowledge, character, and motivation essential to leadership; Offer an environment of trust and respect, where all people can achieve high productivity, are committed to organizational goals and can reach their full potential; Instill self-discipline and ethical accountability for one's actions; In short, make character central to the development of tomorrow's Air Force leaders."17

The picture is not markedly different at West Point. The ability to "recognize moral issues and apply ethical considerations in decision making" is listed as one of eight major areas of emphasis (the others being math/science, engineering thought process, cultural perspective, historical perspective, human behavior, communication and educational development.)18 This includes an integrated program of academic instruction, in addition to an Honor Code, Respect for Others, mentor activities and chain of command responsibilities. These are all designed to give the cadets an opportunity to further discuss ethical issues and act publicly in moral situations, putting into practice what they have learned. This moral world that West Point creates is designed to accomplish West Point's mission:

"To educate, train and inspire the Corps of Cadets so that each graduate is a commissioned leader of character who is committed tot he values of Duty, Honor, Country. Furthermore, these values are exemplified by each graduates commitment to a career in the United States Army and a lifetime of service to the nation."19

While the ethical education in the ROTC program is not as extensive as the academies, there is also a clear emphasis on ethics and professionalism which is integrated into various parts of the curriculum and training. In addition to this, the ROTC program I examined has a semester class (3 credit hours, 42 hours of class time) entitled "Ethics and Professionalism" which covers many of the ethical issues that would be covered in similar instruction at the academies, including the Geneva and Hague Conventions, Military Justice as well as case study discussion of particular ethical issues.20 Much like the academies, there are mentoring opportunities and chain of command responsibilities where cadets can discuss ethical issues and experience the practical application of their ethical education and development.

Now let us examine how the training of the NCO's, in particular senior NCO's, stacks up against the above standards. The first difference immediately obvious is that ethics as a separate issue or topic in the training curriculum is not present in the ways that it is in the officer training. For the most part, ethical issues and discussions are often lumped under the category of leadership and management, without much separate and distinct emphasis. This raises the obvious question of why? Is leadership and management synonymous with ethics? Is it only under these categories that NCO's are expected to encounter ethical problems? Are we to assume that leadership and management theories and strategies provide the solutions to ethical dilemmas? If so, why do the officer's training not approach ethics through this rubric? Why do they treat it separately?

To begin to answer these questions, let us turn to the ethical training and development on the NCO side of the military. In the Air Force, the NCO Academy's curriculum consists in 220 hours of instruction, mostly formal classroom. Two hours of instruction are devoted to ethics itself, "During this lesson we guide our students though a discussion of ethics in the military. Guidance for making ethical decisions is also provided in the form of an ethics checklist and review of Public Law 96-303."21 In addition to this, four hours of the leadership training focuses on the traits and characteristics of a leader, which includes some role model and mentoring discussion, material which might be considered as related to the ethical development of the NCO. There is a total of 6 hours of ethical and ethically related training; an equal time as is devoted to wear or the uniform, or time and stress management, and nearly equal to the time devoted to learning to write bullet statements.22

This trend continues as one moves to the Air Force's Senior NCO Academy. In the SNCOA there are 240 hours of instruction, also primarily of the classroom variety; a total of seven hours might be considered as ethics and ethics related. One hour of time is devoted to Applied Military Ethics which focuses on "Value the relationship ethics plays in Quality Leadership;" two hours are devoted to the value of self discipline; and four hours are devoted to values, "Apply values principles in simulated situations."23 Thus, ethics and ethical development take up about the same amount of time as devoted to administrative time (awards presentations, surveys and preparation for graduation banquet) or as is devoted to instruction on the contributions of the other military branches and organizations.

In the Marine Corps Career Course, which has three levels, ethics is not specifically mentioned as an area of instruction. However, it may be safe to assume (to be charitable) that this is reinforced or covered in the Leadership and Counseling component, as the Marine Corps has a more deliberate cultural ethos than the other branches. In the first level of the Career course, Leadership and Counseling is one of five areas covered, and in the second (seven week course) and third levels (eight week course), it is one of seven areas covered.24 Since I assume that ethics is covered under the rubric of Leadership and Counseling, it is not clear what kind of instruction is involved, what pedagogy is used or what the extent of the training is. If the User's Guide to the Marine Corps Values is used, then the emphasis is primarily on case study and guided discussion.25

To summarize, it should be clear that the training that the NCO receives in the areas of ethics and ethical development does not even begin to appraoch (even at the most senior levels) the training given to the officer corps, whether at the academies or in the ROTC program. There are gaps both in terms of the quantitative time that is given to instruction in this area, as well as a qualitative gap in terms of the kind of training given. The officers receive classroom instruction, engage in discussions (formal and non-formal), and are given some opportunity to practice (not just discuss how they would practice given situation type A or B) and justify their ethical decision making skills in the military context. On the surface, it appears that the NCO has little or no exposure to ethical theories or different ethical approaches, nor is there substantive (if any time) devoted to the Hague and Geneva Conventions and attendant military traditions and customs of the Rules of War associated with these rules and laws - which form the basis for military honor and professionalism.


This, once again, raises the question: WHY? In this section, I examine several possible explanations for this gap, as well as focus on three compelling arguments for why this gap should be bridged, if not eliminated altogether. What are some possible explanations that might account for such a large and obvious gap between the ethical training and development of officers and NCO's? First, one might argue that this training is not necessary since there are vast responsibility differences between the average officer and the average NCO. The officer, it could be argued, has much more command responsibility and is also more responsible for formulating (or participating in the formulation of) policy. This requires the more extensive ethical education and development, since the officer is more in a position to effect events by his beliefs and behavior. The NCO, on the other hand, carries out orders and has no room for this kind of ethical discretion, which would necessitate such training. Therefore, it is redundant and a waste of time and resources.

While is it true that the officer has more impact on policy making, it is simply not true that there is sufficient difference in command responsibility to warrant the difference in ethical education and development. Most of the command responsibility, direct command, lies with the NCO; nearly all the training and formation of the soldiers is carried out and planned by the NCO's and the NCO's (especially in combat) have the most power to effect the behavior of their soldiers. In short, the most direct route to the ethical behavior, or lack thereof, is through the NCO. As I pointed out earlier, the NCO is the moral core of the military, sets the tone for his men and women and represents the maintenance of these standards in turbulent times. I cannot imagine a group where substantial ethical education and development could have more direct consequences or be more important.

Second, one might insist that since there is a gap between the academic education levels in the officer and NCO corps, there is no need for the same kind or extent of ethical education or development. After all, the NCO has a need for applied and practical morality; reading Plato or understanding the nuances of Rule versus Act Utilitarianism would be out of place and a waste of time. The officers, who make and effect policy, need to understand the reasons and nuances behind ethical traditions and need to have thought through their own ethical philosophy, but a drill sergeant only needs and can use the applied and practical implications of these views.

In answer to this, I reject the assumption implicit here that there is a sharp distinction between applied and theoretical ethics. Applied ethics is pointless unless there are some principles or ideas to apply to a situation. This, of course, raises the question of where one is to get these ethical principles and ideas in the first place. Naturally, the military has some ideas and principles that it deems central to military honor and professionalism, so why not just tell the NCO what they are and have them apply them? To this I appeal to John Stuart Mill, who, in On Liberty, pointed out that unless people understand the reasons behind beliefs, they eventually become dead dogma and meaningless.26 I would add that if the ethical standards of military honor become rules that the soldier does not understand the reason for, how much easier it will be to abandon that rule in times of stress, temptation or fear.

This point can be illustrated by an exchange at a conference recently. Some West Point cadets were discussing the moral education that they received and one cadet noted that sometimes it all seemed rather oppressive and authoritarian. This cadet was admirably honest and admitted that he did not understand the rationale behind some of the parts of the Hague and Geneva Conventions or other parts of military honor; many of his fellow cadets, he said, held the view that it would be tempting to ignore these rules (they are just rules imposed by authority) they didn't understand when they left West Point, got into the 'real world' and were able to exercise their own authority. I cannot think of anything more threatening to the future of military honor than to have officers who do not understand why they cannot and should not kill civilians and who might come to view this stricture as a mere rule to be ignored if one can get away with it. Such an officer (or NCO) is not a soldier, but a hired murderer in a fancy outfit.

Third, it would seem that NCO's are not typically in the kinds of situations where they make the kind of large and serious ethical decisions requiring the level of ethical education and development that the officers undergo. Presumably, officers will be at the top of the chain of command, giving orders and generally overseeing things on every level, It seems as though one would never have a situation where an NCO would not have an officer to consult and ask advice of on any ethical situation that might arise. Therefore, this is an unnecessary duplication to have NCO's undergo this kind of training, when they could spend the time learning the technical skills they really need and that the officers would not have.

There are two assumptions in the above view that are problematic. The first is that ethical decisions are always large and momentous; the second is that the chain of command is never disrupted, an officer never killed and that if one is, there will still be an officer with any size unit at anytime. Both of these assumptions are proved to be wildly false by the experience of soldiers in both Cold War and post-Cold War military engagements: Mogadishu, Bosnia, Vietnam. In all of these cases, units were cut off by from their command structure or the NCO had to assume command and make the decisions. As it turned out, the ethical decisions that had to be made, while having large and significant consequences, were everyday events in fairly normal combat/peacekeeping circumstances. The status of civilians, hostile or friendly, in all three of these places was an ethical issue faced by every soldier, everyday and in many ways and not always with a convenient officer to consult.

And what about the myriad of ethical decisions faced everyday in non-combat circumstances? Conflicting loyalties, lying, pilfering property, reporting another soldier who has done something wrong, or failing to keep one's word are issues that every private must deal with and that every NCO will face everyday in his own unit, whether an officer is available or not. If the NCO has command responsibility, it seems that this responsibility should and does also extend to the handing of ethical matters in his chain of command. If the NCO cannot pass off other command responsibilities to his officer, why should ethical issues be any different?

Fourth, a compelling argument might be made that having a parity in the ethical training and development of the officers and the NCO's would eventually undermine officer authority; the NCO's would be constantly second guessing the officer's ethical decisions and stances and this would eventually undermine the integrity of the chain of command, especially dangerous in combat or crisis situations. After all, orders are given with the intention that they be obeyed, not discussed in committee and subject to group approval or majority vote. In addition, this might undermine the NCO's authority with her unit as well. If the soldiers in her unit see her second guessing her commander, it would appear to give them free license to do the same, or at least open up the criticism that there is a double standard of who has to obey orders and who does not.

"When officers infringe on set standards, it is obvious to the enlisted soldier. Consequently, the NCO is caught in the middle. When we try to correct our men, they point out an officer within the unit - one who is guilty of the infraction were are trying to correct. The damage is obvious..."27 An NCO, and even the average soldier, will be perfectly aware that the standard has been violated without having to read Plato; the kind of cynicism that this situation can engender can do more to undermine the authority of the office than any questioning from the NCO. In addition, the NCO will be aware when his officer is not acting ethically and this puts him in a difficult situation and will effect the all important NCO/officer relationship, which is the basis for unit cohesion and esprit de corps. If the military is to be effective, its members must have confidence in the moral authority of its leaders; if soldiers see their NCO's and officers doing their best and genuinely trying to do the right thing, undermining authority will not be an issue. Nothing undermines authority, whether NCO or officer, faster than lack of confidence and loyalty.

Finally, and most compelling, one might insist that while equalizing the ethical education and development of the NCO's might be a good idea in principle, there is simply not enough money in defense budgets, nor enough time in the day to add yet another layer of education and development. The military is under increasing pressure to streamline and downsize its programs, not expand them and add more things that will cost money, add bureaucracy, take of precious time needed to stay current on technical matters and stay prepared to meet threats in a volatile world.

I am inclined to agree entirely with the argument presented above and acknowledge all of these challenges and issues. However, I think that we need to ask ourselves where our priorities really lie and what is really important in training and developing soldiers. I agree with Sir John Winthrop Hackett who insisted while in other professions one could be competent and immoral, it is simply impossible to be a good soldier and fail to uphold certain moral standards.28 If ethics is important enough to warrant all the time and energy that is devoted to it in the officer corps and in the military rhetoric, then it is clear that it is important enough to warrant a commensurate commitment across the board.

To explain further, I would like to look at three arguments for the benefits of increasing and augmenting (in a manner commensurate with rank and command responsibilities) the ethical education and development of the NCO's. The first reason for the necessity of this change lies on the role of the NCO's as educators and trainers. If the My Lai massacre, in particular, and Vietnam, in general, taught the military nothing else, it should be clear that everyone is and can be held ethically responsible for their actions, under fire or not. Given this fact, it is even more critical that the NCO's have the tools needed in educate and train ethically aware and responsible soldiers, regardless of rank. In order to teach, one needs to truly understand what it is to be taught. This entails that NCO's in this position understand not only the rules, principles and mores that are part of military honor, but that they understand their justification, origin and rationale for existence. Clearly, this will entail a much higher level of understanding and education in military honor, its ideas and principles, as well as the rationales and ethical traditions that underlie these ideals. In short, drill sergeants, more than any other people in the military should understand why you can't kill civilians and do need to read Plato and Clauzewitz.

Secondly, it has already been acknowledged that one of the best indicators for success of a military group will be the relationship that exists been its officers and its NCO's. The officers and NCO's must work together, support each other and present a united command front to the soldiers. This should apply to ethical matters in exactly the same way as it applies to other matters. Since the NCO's and officers must work together, share knowledge and at times make decisions together, it makes sense that the NCO's should have a comparable ethical education and development. It would give them both a common language and knowledge base to work from, as well as a common set of assumptions; in reality, this would make friction and disagreement (and thus concerns about undermining officer authority) much less likely, making it clear to the soldiers that everyone is on the same team and working together. In addition, it would also serve as a balancing mechanism and reduce the danger of a maverick officer or NCO exercising their 'ethical individualism' in a way that violates the intent or content of military honor or the standards they have sworn to uphold.

Finally, a serious commitment to the ethical education and development of the NCO corps specifically, and all enlisted personnel generally, would provide the best evidence that the military is truly serious about ethics up and down the chain of command - quelling criticism and cynicism (especially from civilian quarters) that this is just lip service.

"We need to teach our young NCO's that if it can't be done within the system, if it can't be done legally and ethically, then it doesn't need to be done...We must refuse to promote a mindset and philosophy that goes against honor, honesty and commitment to the high ideals the NCO Corps should stand for. We must realize....that every unethical act done by one of us diminishes us all."29

One of the most clear and present dangers to the current military, in addition to the gap between civilian and military cultures, is the tyranny of the mission. To suggest, or even give the impression, that the success of the mission is more important than everything else opens the door to seeing military honor trampled underfoot or sacrificed as something expendable should the circumstances be dire enough. We would do well to remember that without ethics and honor there is no mission, because without honor there are no soldiers, only hired killers. There is no circumstance dire enough to warrant the sacrifice of honor and ethics by anyone, private, Senior Master Sergeant or General. However, this also means that everyone must truly understand and internalize these values, principles and rules. The best way to achieve this is to make a serious, concerted and supported commitment to the ethical education and development of enlisted soldiers, particularly the NCO Corps.


Now I am in a position to finally address the most critical question of all: HOW? It is all well and good to say that we need to enhance the ethical education and development of the NCO's to a level commensurate with their rank and command responsibility, but how is the military to accomplish this? Does the philosopher have any practical ideas about how to go about effecting this change? Clearly, I do not have a comprehensive proposal, but I will offer a thumb nail sketch of one approach to the problem. I believe that this approach is consistent with the culture, demands and needs of the military and moreover, (for the most part) would not require extensive financial or time commitments. What is does require, however, is a serious commitment to the idea that ethics is essential for every soldier (and is more essential the higher the rank) and a re-imagining of how ethics is approached and taught.

The image that I would like to suggest is that of the Moral Drill Sergeant. Drill Sergeants, in my limited experience, teach their recruits to do things by lots of repetition, some instruction, less discussion and lots of hands on practice. There is absolutely no good reason to suppose that learning ethics is any different than learning any other skill the soldier will need on the battlefield. A good place to start is a manual. I would suggest something on the order of the User's Guide to the Marine Corps Values . The guide is heavy on guided discussion and case studies, which is a fine place to start, but it is short on practice. (I am not clear on exactly how the authors intended this text to be used, but it is clear that they did intend it to be used at all levels to help soldiers internalize these ethical lessons.)30 Consequently, this text should serve as a starting point and be integrated into every part of the soldier's life, becoming a living, breathing part of their training. Soldiers need moral practice and drill in exactly the same way that they need practice and 'drilling' to acquire other skills.

When constructing a training program, one of the first questions asked is usually: What do we want the soldiers to be able to do when they are done? Once this is determined, then one looks at what kind of training will best teach this skill and sets up some evaluative process to judge whether the training has succeeded. Ethically speaking, one needs to figure out what one wants soldiers to do or demonstrate. Are there characteristics to be instilled? Are there actions that can be expected of ethical soldiers? Once it is clear what the ethical soldier should be or do, then train them for it.

As with any other skill that one wants to maintain under conditions of stress, fatigue, fear and the like, daily drilling, practice and repetition are in order. For example, one might daily highlight decisions with ethical ramifications, have them make the decision and then justify why they made that decision and draw out the ethical ramification of the decision in either an individual or even better, a group setting. While case studies and discussion are beneficial and useful, the soldiers must be put into positions where they must make ethical decisions and justify them. They must be given the chance to practice the lessons they learn in the classroom; this includes being given the chance to make their own mistakes and then rectify or learn from them, as well as the mistakes of their fellow soldiers.

While it is necessary to teach the rules and values that comprise the ideals of military honor and the warrior ethic, it is also essential to teach everyone the grounds of those rules and values and why they are important. Teaching the why will help ensure that these values and rules are truly integrated in every way into the military culture, rather than being an externally imposed structure of authority, and also help ensure that in times of stress, fear or temptation (when the command structure is looking the other way) these values and rules are upheld. It is not honor to do the right thing when someone is looking over your shoulder; the true test is whether you do the honorable thing when no one is looking.

An essential element to maintaining the standards and ideas instilled by the Moral Drill Sergeant is ‘peer pressure’, i.e. group accountability. If the military is serious about ethics up and down the chain of command, then ethical education and development needs to a priority for every soldier, all the time and at all stages of the career. While it is clear that the military has addressed ethics in the officer corps and begun to make additions to the ethics education in basic training (which in my view still is not nearly adequate enough), there is a great need for the ethical education and development of those that do not fall into either of those categories. This ethical education and development should increase and be reinforced as a soldier moves up the chain of command. As other responsibilities increase, so should the opportunity to develop and demonstrate ethical responsibility.

One change that this view would necessitate that does involve more substantial commitments of time, money and man power is an increased emphasis on the ethical education and development at the NCO Academies. The training at the NCO Academies should minimally be commensurate with the training in ROTC and Officer Training School and eventually strive for the levels of integration and development of character and ethical issues present at the officer academies. If NCO's are to transmit and maintain the ethical standards in the military during turbulent and difficult times, they must be given the tools and the confidence to do the job. This does mean required reading lists, discussing Plato and the Utilitarians, case studies and discussions, study of the Rules of War and UCMJ, as well as the opportunity to develop and put into practice the standards of military honor - both on their own and in the context of training other soldiers.

In this paper I have argued that, given the emphasis on the professional and educational development of the NCO's and enlisted soldiers in recent years and the emphasis the military places on ethics, there is no good reason for the vast gap between the ethical education and development of the officer and NCO Corps. On the contrary, there are several compelling reasons to institute these changes. All of these reasons and benefits impact directly and in significant ways the central mission and culture of the military. If the military is serious about ethics and serious that the NCO is indispensable to the mission and combat effectiveness, it is clear that there is no alternative but to bring the ethical training of the NCO's (and all enlisted soldiers) up to a parity with the officer corps commensurate with command responsibility and rank. Toward the end of opening discussion and debate on this subject, I have offered a thumbnail sketch, evoking the image of the Moral Drill Sergeant, that explores one way that this might be done. I believe that any approach that is to succeed must address the concerns of both theoretical and practical ethics and be consistent with the practical and cultural needs and constraints of the military and the soldiers who are to be served by these changes. This means that any ethical training must be integrated into every aspect of military life and that soldiers, in accordance with rank and command responsibility, must be given the opportunity to practice, make and ultimately justify ethical decisions in an atmosphere that takes moral success seriously enough to allow soldiers to learn and grow from moral failure. A serious commitment to ethics up and down the chain of command requires nothing less; if ethics is to be a priority, then it is worth doing with excellence.


1 A humorous version of the Air Force chain of command (often circulated informally) which goes as follows:

A comprehensive personality traits survey of officer's was recently completed. The results of that test revealed some starting revelations.


Leaps tall buildings in a single bound.

More powerful than a locomotive.

Faster than a speeding bullet.

Walks on water.

Gives policy to GOD.


Leaps short buildings with a single bound.

More powerful than a switch engine.

Just as fast as a speeding bullet.

Walks on water if the sea is calm.

Talks to GOD.


Leaps short buildings with a running start and favorable winds.

Just as powerful as a switch engine.

Faster than a BB.

Walks on indoor swimming pools.

Talks to GOD if special request is granted.


Barely clears small buildings.

Loses tug of war with a switch engine.

Can fire a speeding bullet (sometimes.)

Occasionally appeased by GOD.


Makes high marks on fences when attempting a leap.

Is often run over by locomotives.

Sometimes handles a weapon without inflicting self injury.

Dog paddles.

Talks to himself.


Runs into buildings.

Recognizes locomotives two out of three times.

Never issued ammunition.

Can stay afloat if instructed in the use of a life jacket.

Mumbles to himself.


Falls over doorsteps when entering buildings.

Says "Look at the choo-choo" when he sees a locomotive.

Owns at least one cap pistol.

Plays with a rubber duck in the bathtub.

Talks to animals.


(see quote on pg. 1)

2 US Army, FM 22-100 Military Leadership, (Washington D.C.: Department of the Army, 1983): p. 241.

3 US Army, FM 22-600-20 The Army Non-Commissioned Officers Guide, (Washington D.C.: Department of the Army, 1986), p. 17-8.

4 Ibid., p. 8.

5 GA George C. Marshall, The Papers of George Catlett Marshall, (1941), 2: 546.

6 US Army, Infantry Field Manual FM 7-5, (Washington D.C.: Department of the Army, 1940), p.8-9.

7 CSM Jimmie W. Spencer, personal letter, September 1, 1997.

8 MG Donald R. Infante and MSG Norman J. Oliver, "The Officer and the NCO: Who Does What?" Officer's Call, (March/April 1989): 4-6. For a discuss of the problems with command in Vietnam see Richard A. Gabriel and Paul L. Savage, Crisis in Command, (New York: Hill and Wang, 1978.)

9 War Department Circular 70, Non-Commissioned Officers, (1944), p.1.

10 MAJ George F. Arps, "Science as Applied to the Selection of Non-Commissioned Officers," Infantry Journal, (January 1919): 574-5.

11 GEN Gordon R. Sullivan, "The Chief's View of NCO Leadership Challenges," NCO Journal, (Winter 1994): 8.

12 GEN Carl E. Vuono, Collected Works, (1991), p. 8, 68.

13 The Story of the Non-Commissioned Officer Corps, (1989), p. 27.

14 MG Emory Upton, The Armies of Asia and Europe, (1878), p. 123-6.

15 MAJ R. S. Bratton, "Non-Commissioned Officers' Training School," Infantry (April 1922): 426.

16 US Air Force, A Quick Look at the U.S. Air Force Academy,(http//:www.usafa.afa.mil/pa /media/facts/quickloo.html: May 1999), p. 3.

17 Ibid., p.5.

18 US Military Academy, Untitled Document, (http//:www.dean.usma.edu/EducatingArmy

Leaders/text.html: January 1998), p. 4.

19 Ibid., p.2

20 Pacific Lutheran University, Undergraduate Catalogue 1996-1997. (Tacoma: WA: Pacific Lutheran Univeristy, 1996), p. 131.

21 US Air Force, NCOA Course Synopsis, (http//:www.au.af.mil/au/cepme/epc/ncoasyn.

html: January 1999), p. 5.

22 This is not to suggest that these other elements are not important (clearly they are or they would not be in the curriculum), but rather to give a point of comparison and to raise the question of relative priority and importance.

23 US Air Force, Air Force Senior Non-Commissioned Officer Academy Curriculum, (http//:

www.au.af.mil/au/cepeme/sncoa/course.html: May 1999), p. 3.

24 US Marine Corps, Untitled (http//: www.mcu.usmc.mil/sncoa/CampPend/sc.welcome.

html; http//: www.mcu.usmc.mil/sncoa/CampPend/cc content.html; http//:www.mcu. usmc.mil/sncoa/CampPend/ac20%content.html)

25 US Marine Corps, The User's Guide to the Marine Corps Values, (Marine Corps University: 1999), p. ix and 1-1. I will discuss this in more detail in Section IV.

26 John Stuart Mill, On Liberty, ed. Elizabeth Rapaport. (Indianapolis, IN: Hackett, 1978), p. 34.

27 1SG John M. Liggett, "Officers and NCO's: A Working Relationship That Must Endure," Infantry, (November/December 1972): 26-7.

28 Sir John Winthrop Hackett, "The Military in Service of the State," in War, Morality and the Military Profession, ed. Malham M. Wakin (Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1986), p. 119.

29 MSG Jack D'Amato, "'Nobody's Business...' Creates Ethical Dilemmas," NCO Journal (Winter 1995): 6-7.

30 US Marine Corps, The User's Guide to the Marine Corps Values, (Marine Corps University: 1999), p. vii.