Military service: more than just a job

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The U.S. military has a long and proud tradition; this tradition is captured within the Profession of Arms, executed through the Code of Conduct and lived through the respective services’ values.

These values, although similar in many ways, differ in some respects. But what are the similarities and differences, and what drives them? And why do the armed forces need a code of ethics?

Each military service has developed a set of values that its members are expected to live by. When looking at the various sets of values, it becomes clear they all share certain elements. Ethical and character-defining values, such as integrity, trust, honor, courage, excellence, service, expertise, commitment and devotion, are common to all of the services. In fact, a statement within the Army’s Doctrine Reference Pamphlet 1 is applicable to all the services: their values are representations of America’s values and have been embedded in their approach to warfighting. While the ethical dimension can clearly be seen as a similarity among all of the services, there are differences as well.

Specific differences between the services’ values can be found between the Army and the Coast Guard. Although these services share the ethical qualities of their sister services, they have each added a few distinctions. The Army values include Esprit de Corp (having a winning attitude) and Stewardship of the Profession of Arms (building upon their great legacy). On the other hand, according to the Naval Doctrine Publication 1, the Coast Guard values include Respect (valuing a diverse workforce). This particular service value, although evinced in the other services’ cultures, is only explicitly stated by the Coast Guard. Why? I think while each service has created a set of similar, shared ethical values for its members, each service has also added distinctive values to provide needed emphases for its own specific community and culture. All things considered, the military branches all provide a unique service to the Nation that must be carefully exercised.

Application of military force is one of the most important professions a country can establish. The very survival of a Nation depends upon the military profession, and having a codified Profession of Arms (in engagement) and Code of Ethics (in application) of military force is necessary to ensure a Nation’s future. Former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin Dempsey, said that professionalism must be cultivated, and staying committed to the Profession of Arms is critical in maintaining the best trained force in the world. We require a codified Profession of Arms and Code of Ethics because our calling is unique and distinguished from others in society; it requires the application of lethal military force and a willingness to die for our Nation in the process. This profession demands its practitioners maintain a sound and specific set of values; values that represent those of America and the application of a just force.

Military service is more than just a job, and we as military members cannot afford to lose sight of that, because the values that make us unique are the building blocks of our Profession of Arms and Code of Ethics, which govern the application of military force. Gen. Ronald Fogleman said it best, “We are not engaged in just another job; we are practitioners of the Profession of Arms. We are entrusted with the security of our nation, the protection of our citizens and the preservation of its way of life. In this capacity, we serve as guardians of America’s future”