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Junior Army leaders at JBLM get a crash course in ethics

Adultery. Sexual assault. Bribes.

Joint Base Lewis-McChord’s top Army officer paused for a moment in a room full of young soldiers as he displayed headlines that described senior officers getting disciplined for ethical lapses such as these.

I Corps Commander Lt. Gen. Stephen Lanza wanted the headlines to leave an impression on an audience of sergeants and lieutenants gathered for a two-day retreat on Army ethics.

“I’ll be frank,” he told the group. “There are times we have confused character and competence.”

Lanza kicked off the summit Wednesday by asking these most junior level of Army leaders to weigh in on a proposed new Army ethic. Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno wants to use it to guide soldiers through what are expected to be difficult years of post-Iraq War downsizing.

Senior officers worry that the drawdown, coupled with a slower pace of “real world” missions and other potential reductions to pay and benefits, will diminish morale. That could lead to a period of home station “micromanaging” that might sap motivation from troops.

“In a few years, we won’t be able to fight our way out of a paper bag,” said Don Snider, a retired Army colonel and Vietnam veteran who led some of the discussions at JBLM this week.

Army leaders want to avoid any hint of what happened in the 1970s when the Vietnam era was winding down. Morale and discipline bottomed out as the war-weary country made a transition to smaller, postwar military. It would take years for the Army to rebuild itself into a cohesive all-volunteer force.

Snider said he purposely used provocative language to prod the junior soldiers this week, encouraging them to “fix” seemingly intractable problems such as sexual harassment and assault.

“We’re going to have to take a big system and throw a bomb in it” to maintain morale, he said.

Lanza and other high-ranking officers wanted to know whether the proposed ethic would help junior leaders guide their small units. The proposed document asks soldiers to think of themselves as military professionals who are competent in their missions and behave honorably both in the service and in the civilian world.

“If you are in this uniform, whether you like it or not, you are held to a higher standard,” Lanza said.

They faced some skeptical questions from lieutenants, but mostly had open ears from junior leaders looking for ways to motivate other soldiers.

“This is not something people think about when they join the Army,” said Landan O’Ban, 24, a Stryker officer in JBLM’s 8th Squadron, 1st Cavalry Regiment.

Warrant Officer Bridget Crosby of the Washington National Guard said she wanted to attend the forum “to get our soldiers having pride in the uniform.”

“I think of it as a family,” she said. “If you have pride in your family, you wouldn’t deface it.”

Lanza’s slide showing high-profile cases of misconduct in the Army’s highest ranks hung over the first morning’s discussions.

One headline referenced a recent Army Times story that revealed that 129 brigade and battalion leaders had been removed from command since 2003. Others focused on former Brig. Gen. Jeffrey Sinclair, who was accused of sexual assault and later demoted two ranks after he pleaded guilty to adultery.

At least one headline referenced a JBLM senior officer. It pointed to Col. Harry Tunnell, whose leadership of a Stryker brigade in Afghanistan in 2009 was questioned after it experienced heavy casualties and came home under a cloud of alleged war crimes.

It’s important for junior leaders to study those cases “so that when they become (commanders) they won’t make the wrong decisions,” said Col. John Vermeesch, deputy director of the Center for the Army Profession and Ethic.

CLARIFICATION: In a story Feb. 6 , 2015, about an ethics course for junior Army leaders, The News Tribune reported that the course’s leader, Lt. Gen. Stephen Lanza, referenced former Joint Base Lewis-McChord Stryker brigade Commander Col. Harry Tunnell in a presentation on high-profile cases of misconduct. Lanza’s presentation did reference Tunnell, but the article should have clarified that while Tunnell was in command of soldiers who were convicted of killing three Afghan civilians in 2010, he himself was never found guilty of misconduct or ethical lapses. An investigation into Tunnell's command that followed his deployment instead faulted him for conflicts with his superior officers and lapses in oversight.

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