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Army Standards and Ethical Dilemmas Essay

The inconsistent application of Army standards leads to unethical decisions on a daily basis. Despite an emphasis on Army values at all levels, military leaders open themselves up to make unethical decisions when they don’t adhere to set standards. Despite the Army having clear standards on height/weight, APFT, the tattoo policy, and reporting requirements, leaders often take it upon themselves to ignore the standard or create their own.

Leaders have the responsibility to maintain and enforce standards which are driven by regulations. If military leaders would consistently enforce these standards, ethical dilemmas and unethical decisions would be significantly reduced. Army Standards and Ethical Dilemmas Standards are necessary within an organization to promote discipline, production, and efficiency. Recently, the Sergeant Major of the Army visited the Sergeants Major Academy and the focus of his presentation was really about Army Standards.

The Sergeant Major’s message got me thinking about Army standards and the inconsistent application of these standards throughout the Army, specifically the ethical dilemmas that arise due to this inconsistency. If an organization’s standards are applied inconsistently, that organization’s culture changes and allows room for unethical application of those standards. In the Army we see this inconsistent application of standards in the areas of height and weight standards, the APFT, the tattoo policy, application of punishment through the UCMJ, and in unit reporting.

Standards First, we must define what a standard is. Standards are methods that define what success is in a training event, such as an APFT or marksmanship qualification. Standards are the rules for conduct in the work place and while off duty. Standards are rules or guidelines for proper wear and appearance in the uniform. In the Army we have regulations, training manuals, and unit standing operating procedures that spell out the “standard” for everything we do without exception. The Army even has a standard for organizational values, LDRSHIP.

A tool that should make consistent application of standards easy for leaders is the acronym LDRSHIP: loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, honor, integrity, and personal courage. Despite regulations and despite Army values, our leaders, Army wide, have difficulty in enforcing standards consistently the result for these leaders, often times, is making unethical decisions which have a negative effect on the force. Our challenge as leaders is to do a much better job of enforcing standards, as well as consistently applying the standards in order to reduce ethical dilemmas.

Height/Weight and APFT The Army clearly spells out its policy or standard for both height/weight and physical fitness standards in AR 600-9 and in FM 21-20. In AR600-9, the standard for how much a Soldier can weigh, based on his or her height and age is spelled out. If a Soldier exceeds the height/weight screening table, then the Soldier is taped to assess the amount of body fat the Soldier has. If the Soldier exceeds the allowed body fat percentage, AR 600-9 specifies what actions are to be taken by the commander.

Some of the consequences include, counseling by the Soldier’s supervisor, nutrition counseling, the Soldier should be flagged and barred to re-enlist until meeting the height/weight standard, ultimately the Soldier should be chaptered out of the Army if he or she is unable to meet the standard. Just like AR 600-9, FM 21-20 specifies the Army standard for both the conduct of the APFT as well as the standard for passing the APFT. Additionally, the Army has specified that a Soldier that doesn’t pass the APFT should be flagged and not eligible for promotion until that Soldier meets the standard.

One would think that such straight forward standards would be easy to follow and adhere to as an organization, but quite the opposite has been true throughout the Army the application of standards has been difficult. The first example that comes to mind is the measuring techniques that are spelled out in AR 600-9 that determine a Soldier’s body fat. I have been in the Army for twenty-one years and have been subject to the tape test my entire career; I can tell you that measurement methods have been inconsistent at best.

Sometimes, there are the appropriate numbers of people doing the taping, but often times there is just one person doing the taping. Sometimes, the person doing the taping measures the Soldier correctly and other times the person may tape in such a way as to give the Soldier an advantage. As far as the grading of the APFT goes, although FM 21-20 specifies the correct way to do a push-up or sit-up, the actual scoring for these events are wildly inconsistent from grader to grader. Sometimes these inconsistencies hurt a Soldiers score, but often these inconsistencies give an unfair advantage to a Soldier over his or her peers.

The inconsistencies in grading the APFT and measuring a Soldier’s body fat are magnified by those leaders who don’t even bother and just “pencil whip” the results of both. What a unit or leader does or does not do to Soldiers who fail the APFT or do not meet the standards of AR 600-9 is where possible ethical dilemmas arise. I was the height/weight NCO for a company for almost four years, and we never chaptered a Soldier for height/weight. However, it was not because I or any other NCO didn’t do what is required by AR 600-9. Soldiers were not chaptered primarily due to end strength, bottom line we needed Soldiers.

Commanders were unwilling to adhere to standards in order to retain more Soldiers. This is a classic example of inconsistent application of standards that led to the unethical decision of retaining Soldiers that could not meet the Army standards for height and weight. Tattoo Policy Another area of inconsistent application of an Army standard is the Army’s policy on tattoos. For years, the Army’s policy on tattoos prohibited those in the Army or those seeking to enter the Army from having tattoos that were visible below their wrists or visible above the neckline while in uniform.

In order to meet recruiting requirements, this policy was lifted and those entering the Army were allowed to have tattoos that were visible above the neckline and below the wrist. Now that the Army is drawing down, the standard is reverting back to the old policy of no tattoos visible above the neckline and below the wrist. If a Soldier with such tattoos desires to stay in the Army, that Soldier will have to pay to have the tattoo removed. Personally, I agree with the policy of no visible tattoos and think such tattoos present an unprofessional appearance.

However, I don’t think the Army should have changed the standard to allow such tattoos in the first place, regardless of the recruiting requirements. What has resulted from this policy change or unethical decision is that a significant number of Soldiers who were allowed to join with these tattoos, are now being required to either pay to have the tattoos removed or get out of the Army. If there is no “grandfathering in” of this policy, then the Army has made an unethical decision to force these Soldiers out or to pay, from their own pockets, to have these tattoos removed.

The Army allowed these Soldiers into the Army when the Army needed them, now that the Army is downsizing these Soldiers are being forced out or forced to remove the tattoos. Where were the Army values in this decision? Application of UCMJ Having been a first sergeant, I have been a part of many UCMJ proceedings and have witnessed how Soldiers of different ranks are treated differently. I have witnessed First Lieutenants that have been convicted of DUI get moved to a new unit and later get promoted to Captain.

I have also witnessed Sergeants First Class get DUIs that have been demoted and forced to retire. What is ethical in having the same standard, yet having a totally different application of punishment for the same offense? This same argument can be made for two Soldiers of the same rank committing the same offense, and receiving totally different punishments. This usually happens when the Soldier’s chain of command states what a great Soldier they are, request leniency on the Soldier because the Soldier has a family, or is in financial trouble.

It is ultimately the decision of the commander to decide punishment of a Soldier, but I contend that it is unethical and unfair to give different punishments to Soldiers for the same offense. Soldiers know what happened when two specialists who went AWOL both came out of their Article 15 hearings and while one is still a Specialist, and the other is now a Private First Class. This type of unequal treatment is unethical and unfair, and has a negative effect on the command climate and unit morale.

Official Reporting Another area of unethical activity that is widespread throughout the Army is n official reports, both to the next higher headquarters, clear up to the Department of the Army. A very common occurrence of this false reporting occurs when mechanized or aviation units report their operational readiness rates. Commanders at all levels are under tremendous pressure to report a readiness rate within the Army standard for their type of unit. A commander whose unit’s OR rate is not up to standard, has a high likelihood of being relieved. All too often, these commanders succumb to the pressure and submit false reports to maintain the illusion of preparedness.

Conclusion If an organization develops a standard, then those standards should be both enforceable and enforced upon all in the organization. If an organization creates a policy and then changes the policy, the organization should build in exemptions to that policy that prevents the change from being unfair to those already in the organization. If an organization’s standards are applied inconsistently, that organization’s culture changes and allows room for unethical application of those standards.

In the Army today and through the years we have seen inconsistency after inconsistency in the enforcement of Army standards. The creation of the Army values and focusing to ensure that all Soldiers know the acronym LDRSHIP was supposed to help with ethical decisions and prevent inconsistent application of Army standards. I think as a whole the Army is getting better in these regards, but we have a long way to go. Continued ethics training from basic training through the war college will help, but consistent application of standards is the key to keep leaders from making unethical decisions.

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