The armed forces of the United States is one of the most feared and respected military organizations in the world. This image is helped by documentaries, news reports and even by the movies. But the real reason why the US military is considered very powerful and a dangerous enemy can be understood after reading the following explanation:
The United States military is unique in the amount of power it can project globally. Although France and the United Kingdom, as well as Germany, Spain, Italy, PRC, and European Union, are capable of projecting power overseas, the United States military is the only one with the higher military capacity to fight a major regional war at a distance from its homeland. The U.S. is also one of the few nations in the world that has a sizable nuclear arsenal and maintains active doctrines for plausible nuclear attack operations. (see Wikipedia: US Military).
This is why America is feared and respected. Although there is reason to believe that Americans would prefer that their country and its citizens are respected rather than feared; there is also a lot of apprehension over the notion that U.S. superpower is a bully in the global theater.
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This negative image which others believe to be the dark side of this great institution is putting a lot of pressure on the military organization to behave appropriately and to borrow from their lingo: there should be no conduct unbecoming a military officer. For when this happens the chain reaction can be unbelievable. One indiscretion and the whole structure will be placed in a bad light. Consider for example relatively recent events about U.S. soldiers abusing POW’s and some of its members involved in an alleged rape case overseas are a few instances when the rest of the world shakes its head and would love to believe that all this power had corrupted the men and women in uniform.
In order to prevent such misconduct and to keep its integrity intact the U.S. military is keeping in place a system of rules, regulations, traditions, and protocols that would ensure that the rest of the world will hold the said institution in high esteem.
The word discipline when put inside the world of soldiers takes on a different meaning. This has nothing to do with the kind of discipline kids get at home when they fail to do their homework or when they do not clean their room. Discipline in the ordinary day to day life of normal people can sometimes mean a temporary abstinence on doing something or a temporary increase in work volume to accomplish a task or simply to grit ones teeth and do something that is normally not done if the circumstances are more favorable. In the military soldiers do not wait until things are worse before they will begin to be disciplined.
In other worlds soldiers do not wait until they are overweight before they start doing morning jogs and calisthenics. They trained before the need arises, they practice long and hard before the fight and they prepare before the crisis. Discipline in the Army, Navy and the Air Forces is a lifestyle. It can be said that it is more than a lifestyle in fact it is the blood that keeps the institution alive and the invisible force that holds it together. Without discipline the armed forces can easily disintegrate in quickly destroying everything in its path including itself. The infamous tortures at the Abu Ghraib prison – where prisoners of war were being held – was well documented and shown around the world.
It was an example of a breakdown in discipline. And noncommissioned officers figured prominently in this fiasco. CNN reporters J. Johns, D. Ensor and M. Mount quoted Rep. Jane Harman in a letter to Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and Harman said, “The fog of war is thick, but these acts of abuse and humiliation contradict international norms, military regulations and the very values that our military fights to defend…” (see CNN.com)
The report adds that all the perpetrators were, “…all officers or noncommissioned officers” (Johns, Ensor & Mount). In an ideal setting this should not have happened especially in the presence of NCOs.
The Role of Noncommissioned Officers
NCOs are leaders, period. The military cannot function without leadership as much as a body cannot survive without a head. Everything depends upon leadership and in this regard NCOs play a major role.
An Army Officer’s guidebook expounds on the meaning of the term and it says:
A leader is people fitted by force of ideas, character, or genius, or by strength of will or administrative ability, to arouse, incite, and direct men in conduct and achievement. Leadership is the art of imposing one’s will upon others in such a manner as to command their respect, their confidence, and their whole-hearted cooperation. (Bonn, 320)
In the NCO guidebook leadership is seen as basic in the structure of the U.S. armed forces and it says, “Leadership, despite the great strides in technology, remains the same – influencing and motivating people to get the job done” (Rush, 34). With regards to the NCOs taking up a part of the burden of leadership, Rudyard Kipling was quoted as saying, “The backbone of the army is the noncommissioned man!” (as qtd. in Fisher, 3).
An article in Wikipedia’s website expounds on the words of Kipling:
The noncommissioned officer corps is the junior management of the military. An experienced NCO corps is a key component of Western armies: in many cases NCOs are credited as being the metaphorical backbone of their service. By contrast, the weak NCO corps of the modern-day Russian armed forces, and those modeled after it, is widely blamed for the general ineffectiveness of those militaries. (see Wikipedia: Noncommissioned Officers)
NCOs and the Concept of Discipline
The U.S. military structure amounts to a pile of junk without discipline and the people that are tasked to instill discipline and order in the ranks are the noncommissioned officers. NCOs do the dirty work and this is very much evident in shaping a bunch of boys who know nothing about authority and following orders prior to enlistment into hardened men who will obey first before they complain. Discipline is very important in the military because it is an organization tasked to do jobs that are out of the ordinary and in many instances, in life and death situations. These kinds of jobs will determine the safety of a country, the lives of their fellow soldiers or the civilians under their sphere of influence.
NCOs instills this concept of a more serious kind of discipline by being an example for his men. In Semper Fi, a book about the highly respected U.S. Marine corps, a description of the NCO’s methodology – in terms of how he earns the respect of his men and how he hammers discipline into their system – was provided by the authors:
The authority of the Marine NCO does not rest on fear; its foundation is the well-earned respect of equally tough men. He leads, and inspires, by being the man he wants his troops to become. The NCO personifies his expectations of the men he commands. He wants his Marines to look “squared away” and so he dresses and marches smartly himself. Since he wants to instill instant obedience, his men will see him obey instantly when an officer commands. He wants his men to be aggressive in combat, so he himself is the epitome of aggressiveness. The Marine Corps NCO, through his own behavior, creates a desire to be like him. (Carrison and Walsh, 69)
The apt description of what an NCO is all about as presented by Carrison and Walsh answers the question on what happens when NCOs misbehave. Using the ideas discussed earlier it would be easy to list the reason why NCOs should always be the quintessential soldier.
First of all it is due to his position as part of the leadership of the armed forces. An NCOs actions does not go unobserved and will always be an influence and guide to the new recruit and those under his command. If the NCO is unruly, does not follow orders and breaks the code of conduct then it is not surprising for the rest of the soldiers to do the same.
An NCO could not afford to appear irresponsible and uncontrollable or speaks in a manner that show disrespect to his superiors and fellow officers simply because he is not in a normal setting. In an office or in a school perhaps undisciplined behavior and a rebellious attitude towards authority will not really cause too much damage in relative proportion to a similar behavior in the army. When NCO acts like a spoiled brat men dies and blood flows unnecessarily. Worse, the unit can be in grave physical danger and the morale of the troops would significantly decrease leading in more losses and more damage.
The chain reaction from an NCO’s lack of prudence can not simply be taken lightly as the repercussions will be felt for many generations. And this is not an exaggeration. The following is an account of what happened more than 200 years ago – in America’s war of independence – that helped changed the course of history. It is a testament to the fact that undisciplined men would cause a series of events that will lead to catastrophe:
Following the British victory at the Battle of Long Island in August 1776, Queens County came under military’s control […] From the outset, military officials realized that the war had both military and political dimensions. […] Military misconduct against civilians would only create enmity, hinder the effective prosecution of the war and make post war reconciliation more difficult […] By wars end the people of Queens had become, not loyal subjects, but Patriots – as much by British default as by personal choice. (Fingerhut and Tiedermann, 50)
The effect of military misconduct especially when an NCO exhibits such undesirable behavior will first result in a breakdown of discipline but it will not end there. The men under the NCOs command will use said breakdown as an excuse for caving in under pressure. Thus when the going gets tough the men who witnessed insubordination and disrespect to senior officers will use that as an excuses for not following orders and then a chain reaction follows.
When things begin to turn really uncontrollable, when the spirit of discipline that holds the army together is gone, the same soldiers who are selfless, hard workers, united and having one mind and heart will suddenly transform into a selfish monster who will do everything that seems to be right base on selfish interests. The result of which is written in the annals of military history. These events are labeled as infamous but it has cost more than shame it has resulted in the deaths and humiliation of the innocents. But from a military’s point of view it all boils down to failure in accomplishing a mission and for some cases it means losing the war.
Bonn, Keith E. Army Officer’s Guide. Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole Books, 2002.
Carrison, Dan and Rod Walsh. Semper Fi: Business Leadership the Marine Corps Way.
New York: American Management Association, 1999.
Fingerhut, Eugene R., and Tiedermann, J.S. The Other New York: The American Revolution
Beyond New York City. New York: State University of New York Press, 2005.
Fisher, E. F. Jr. Guardians of the Republic: A History of the Noncommissioned officer corps of the U.S. Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole Books, 2001.
"Military of the United States." Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. 27 May 2006. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 28 May 2006 <https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Military_of_the_United_States&oldid=55490638>.
"Non-commissioned officer." Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. 24 May 2006. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 28 May 2006 <https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Noncommissioned_officer&oldid=54910164>.
Rush, Robert S. NCO Guide. 7th ed. Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole Books, 2003.
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