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Col. John W. Ripley, to whom this blog is dedicated, was the personification of the values expressed in this article.

Written by Lieutenant Colonel David G. Bolgiano, USAF, Retired

Alexandre Havard writes in Virtuous Leadership on the importance and relevance of the cardinal virtues – prudence, fortitude (or courage), temperance (or self-control) and justice – to both leaders and organizations. Any person or group that lacks in one or more of these core character traits is doomed to failure. As William Penn, the founder and namesake of Pennsylvania, said:

Governments, like clocks, go from the motion men give them; and as governments are made and moved by men, so by them they are ruined too … Let men be good and the government cannot be bad … But if men be bad, let the government be never so good, they will endeavor to warp and spoil it to their turn.

Likewise, our military depends on good people to lead and man it. Historically, it has consistently embraced the cardinal virtues to better ensure a spirit of selfless sacrifice and service amongst its members. Herodotus’s commentary on the duties of the ancient Persians, “to ride well, shoot straight, and speak the truth,” recognizes that there are absolute truths and an internal moral compass that warriors should follow.

These beliefs have formed the cornerstone of our military’s ethos. It is now under subtle attack by those that decry such beliefs as antiquated or even unconstitutional. Such efforts must be soundly repulsed, as military leaders’ moral compasses must be immune to quaint notions of modernity that recognize no fundamental truths.

party_over

“… self-absorbed, licentious behaviors such as one routinely observes in Hollywood and professional sports leagues.”

For years, living by the cardinal virtues has inoculated the military from self-absorbed, licentious behaviors such as one routinely observes in Hollywood and professional sports leagues. America’s modern military culture has fairly consistently remained above the fray of partisan politics and the gutter of licentiousness. Unfortunately, there are those trying to change that very culture by marginalizing the voices of virtue within our force.

If the Armed Forces of the United States is to remain a dominant player in geopolitics as well as a guardian of our populace, it must not proceed under the false belief that aspiring to live virtuously is somehow an antiquated and irrelevant modality for a postmodern world. The first obstacle often thrown out by those objecting to infusing virtue’s lessons into policy is that doing so somehow violates the Constitution of the United States’ First Amendment’s Establishment Clause, which proscribes a formal church-state relationship. Such an objection is a canard that is predicated on ignorance of history and the law. Historically, discussions of the cardinal virtues can be found not only in all of the world’s major religions, but also in classical literature and philosophy. Legally, those that rail against any open religious activity in the military, such as the presence of a Chaplains’ Corps, seem to ignore the Free Exercise Clause of that very same Constitutional Amendment. Sadly, these voices have found traction of late within the Executive Branch.

                                                           The Cardinal Virtues

Prudence or Competency
As Francis Bacon noted, one rarely finds a wise head on a young body. Hence, this virtue, like all the others, must be taught and learned. Aristotle defined prudence as recta ratio agibilium, meaning “right reason applied to practice.” In the military, this is reflected in a commander who has mastered fundamental tasks so well that in the fog of war these are enabling, rather than distracting. At a purely tactical level, it is that Visit Board Search and Seizure (VBSS) team member so intimate with his weapon systems that he can focus on potential threats, not on whether his weapon’s selector switch is on safe or fire.

When a leader consistently makes wrong decisions – or makes rash decisions, right or wrong – then that individual is imprudent. Due to the complexity of the modern battlefield, it is easy to err in this fashion. Accordingly, competent leaders seek the counsel of others and quickly learn to delegate responsibility and authority to trusted subordinates. They also encourage freethinking amongst their staff. Those assigned to a dysfunctional staff, where the commander browbeats those who disagree, will instantly recognize this lack of virtue in their boss. “Don’t be the nail that sticks above the surface” is the unspoken advice in such commands. Sadly, courageous subordinates are often crushed; while sycophants, or those who simply remain silent, get promoted.

Prudence or competency is the result of practice. But, it also may require personal humility. Disregarding the advice or warnings of others whose judgment does not coincide with one’s own may be a sign of imprudence. It is possible that the commander is right and his staff wrong; but the opposite may be true, especially if the commander is consistently disagreeing with those whose demonstrated judgment is sound. Absent a moral barometer, either derived from natural law or the Ten Commandments, there is no measure of right reason. Accordingly, bad commanders will simply bully others to get their way. That is why assaults upon the military’s seemingly archaic moral code are so intrinsically dangerous. For he who believes in everything believes nothing and, consequently, lacks a compass by which to steer a true and straight course.

Justice
Prudence or competency is the internal focus of one’s intellectual abilities: the application of right reason to a given problem. Justice is more outwardly focused. It is that trait which seeks to give everyone his or her rightful due. This requires much more than simply abiding by the rules set forth in the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) or General Orders. While maintaining discipline in the Armed Forces is very important to the orderly conduct of military operations, and most people desire and expect malefactors to be brought to justice, the virtue of justice is much greater than the sum of what is set forth in those rules and procedures. Good commanders utilize justice as a positive motivator on the path toward a humble and magnanimous career for themselves and their subordinates.

Field Marshal William Slim 1950

Field Marshal William Slim, commander of the China-Burma-India Theater of Operations in World War II.

Members of a successful military command are more concerned with respecting the rights of others and giving them proper credit where credit is due. It was said of Field Marshal William Slim, Commander of the China-Burma-India Theater of Operations in World War II, that he never said “I,” rarely said “We,” and always said “You.” Sam Damon, the protagonist in Anton Myer’s brilliant novel Once an Eagle, further exemplifies such a person. Damon is a professional warrior who puts duty, honor, and the men he commands above self-interest. He justly earns his promotions. The book’s antagonist, Courtney Massengale, is an unjust, self-absorbed bully who advances by political scheming and trampling upon subordinates and contemporaries. Once an Eagle should be mandatory reading for all officers and non-commissioned officers.

Justice also requires an acknowledgement of and obeisance to the natural law or divinely-inspired law. Absent such a framework, we are left with simply the subordinate laws and whims of man. We would be well served to remember that Adolf Hitler did nothing illegal under the laws of the Third Reich. The reason that Hitler’s acts were so unspeakable is that they contravened Divine or natural law. A just leader respects both the natural rights of others (to be secure in life and limb, their obligations to family and associates, fundamental property rights, and to practice one’s religion and hold sacred beliefs) and the legal rights of others (command authorities, the UCMJ (Uniform Code of Military Justice), personal contract rights, and other rights and entitlements found under the law). Should legal rights ever come into conflict with natural rights, however, the latter take precedence. Hence, a warrior has both a right and an obligation to disobey clearly unlawful, unethical or unconstitutional orders. Without an underlying concept of right or wrong – what is justice – how would a service member ever be able to discern this?

Finding Our Knight

Col. John Ripley opposed the inclusion of females into units routinely expected to be engaged in close quarters combat (CQB) missions. He chose rather to protect “femininity, motherhood and what we have come to appreciated in Western Cultures as the graceful conduct of women.”

Courage
One may assume that anyone donning the uniform of the Armed Forces has physical courage. However, what is being discussed here is an overarching moral courage. A person could be physically courageous enough to charge a machine gun nest, but still be a moral coward in other important leadership capacities. Moral courage, or fortitude, is that rock-steady virtue that seeks to elevate others above self. Competency and justice are the virtues by which we decide what ought to be done. Courage provides us the will and strength to do so, even in the face of obstacles. For day-to-day life, it is the constant practice of seeking and speaking the truth in the face of adversity or peer pressure to do otherwise. It is what gives that subordinate staff officer the strength to raise a hand during a command briefing and disagree with a politically expedient, but morally wrong or unjust, course of action.

traditional marriage campaign

Courage is what members of  “TFP Student Action” exemplify whenever they hit the streets to defend Traditional marriage. This photo was taken during a caravan in Illinois.

Courage may require one to speak out against voguish but evil spirits of the times, impure conduct or trends, and the common tendency to seek the path of least resistance. It also requires one to speak the truth even if doing so may be personally painful: “For if we sin willfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins.” (Hebrews 10:26)

The New Testament also speaks to those who “are willingly ignorant.” The meaning is the same. It is one thing to be unaware of the truth; it is altogether different when people know what is true, yet ignore it out of cowardice or political expediency. By a casual reading of today’s headlines, it appears to all but the naïve or complicit that many of our senior military leaders have failed to stand up for what they must, in their hearts, know to be right and just. This is likely for want of courage.

Mtn. Home Air Force Base

MOUNTAIN HOME AIR FORCE BASE, Idaho — Airman 1st Class John Sriharong, 366th Equipment Maintenance technician, prays during a men’s prayer group at Liberty Chapel.

Self-Control or Temperance
Epistemologically, self-control or temperance demands control of one’s animal desire for pleasure. We wring our hands and wonder why so many of our warriors commit acts of sexual assault; and, how come so many flag officers commit other diverse acts of moral turpitude. Often, these acts are a failure to moderate desires in the face of temptation. Self-control is that virtue which attempts to overcome the human condition best stated as “The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” But, if we have institutionally disavowed the notion that there are fundamental rights and wrongs, is it any wonder we are in this quandary?

However, self-control is much more than just tempering base sexual desires. In the realm of virtuous leaders, self-control might mean that choleric personalities restrain their tempers; impatient persons exercise listening skills; tardiness is replaced by timeliness; or phlegmatic persons make an effort to be more outgoing. “Everything that grows begins small. It is by constant and progressive feeding that it gradually grows big.” This notion applies to seeding and growing virtue in organizations and individual lives. Taking such seemingly small steps can gradually build a command imbued with a sense of unit humility. It can truly help transform an organization from a dour, miserable workplace to a magnanimous command where people are excited and proud to serve.

Magnanimity is an underutilized and not frequently understood word. It is the loftiness of spirit enabling one to bear trouble calmly, to disdain meanness and pettiness, and to display a noble generosity. It is the essence of chivalry. A magnanimous person is the opposite of a pusillanimous or small-minded person. Every military leader should strive to foster an environment where magnanimity flourishes. Absent a deep understanding and practice of the cardinal virtues, however, such a goal is futile because the leader lacks the inherent capacity to foster unit humility and magnanimity.

Words of Caution
The dangers for the military not acknowledging and living pursuant to the cardinal virtues should be obvious. But, when one considers how to boil a frog, the pitfalls may not be as obvious as they once recently might have been. Just consider the myriad “hot button” issues, critical to the continued integrity and strength of our military, which have now all but been placed “off limits” by senior leaders who seem more concerned with keeping their stars than speaking or hearing the truth. For example, any rational discussion concerning these topics – (1) the possibility that core tenets of Sharia law are incompatible with a Constitutional Republican form of governance that respects religious freedoms; (2) forced affirmation of vice in the form of acceptance of homosexual conduct within our forces; and (3) the inclusion of females into units routinely expected to be engaged in close quarters combat (CQB) missions – has been effectively quashed in today’s military. This is true, despite the fact that a majority of those serving have principled questions about each of these topics.

But anyone that now questions the wisdom of such policies is, at best, quickly marginalized. Truth, or at least rational attempts to discern the truth, has been labeled as “Hate Speech.” In some instances, as in the case of Army Lieutenant Colonel Matthew Dooley who was crushed by the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff for daring to raise the aforementioned Sharia issue, otherwise stellar careers are ruined for not toeing the party line. We should do well to heed the words of Isaiah: “Woe to you that call evil good, and good evil: that put darkness for light, and light for darkness: that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter.”

Douglas MacArthur lands Leyte Gulf

General Douglas MacArthur, accompanied by President Sergio Osmena of the Philippines (L), land at Palo Beach, Leyte, on October 20, 1944.

While it is imperative – as General of the Army Douglas MacArthur tested during the Korean War – that the military remain subordinate to its civilian masters in matters of policy and strategy, it must nevertheless vigorously resist attempts to dilute its core values by means of crass political bullying. Moreover, if there are rational and moral concerns about any policy or course of action, voices expressing such concerns should be encouraged, rather than quelled or shunned. Sadly and dangerously, this does not appear to be happening in today’s military.

Trends to muzzle the virtuous voices in the military must be reversed if our Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force, Army and Coast Guard are to remain morally fit and strong. The silence of the admirals and generals has been deafening in this regard. Six years into this Administration’s grand experiment to radically transform America has caused serious erosion in our military’s capability and discipline; yet, we hear crickets instead of voices of truth and moral incorruptibility from our flag officers. Consequently, we now have a military that appears more concerned with providing benefits to random sexual partners or forcing the square peg of “gender” equality into the round hole of readiness.

No objectively honest person should be surprised that an overwhelming majority of female candidates simply can’t make it through physically demanding courses such as the Army’s Ranger School, Marine Infantry Officers Course, Basic Underwater Demolition School (SEAL-BUDS) and Special Forces Qualification Course. By not accepting the fact that “war is hard” and close-quarters combat is necessarily a realm for masculine males, the military scrambles to change the standards to ensure “sex” equality occurs despite costs to our readiness.

USMC Training

“There is a reason there are no female athletes in the National Football League.”

When it comes to matters of national defense, specious beliefs in the physical equality of the sexes should not trump the harsh reality of the battlefield. There is a reason there are no female athletes in the National Football League (or any other professional sports league): men are better suited to such physical conflict. All the politically correct thought and indoctrination in the world can’t change this fact of nature and God’s design. If we allow courts or policy makers not anchored by virtues to challenge this immutable truth, we will end up not only with boring sports contests but also a less effective combat force. But, first, we must acknowledge there are immutable facts and truths. Voices of reason and truth, like that expressed by Marine Captain Katie Petronio, are few and far between in this discussion. They appear entirely absent amongst our flag ranks.

Repeating lies loudly and often enough does not make them true. Senior leaders must not simply parrot the opinions of their political masters. Sometimes, the cardinal virtues demand they speak the truth. But, perhaps paralyzed by the fear of losing their stars or not getting a “top block” on that section of their fitness report that demonstrates the proper degree of political correctness, most will remain silent.

Occupy Wall Street

“…a Marine Corp Private stands head and shoulders above ‘Occupy Wall Street’ types”

Subordinates watch and learn from their leaders. If those leaders go into defilade instead of standing up for what is virtuous, what lessons will be passed down to the next generation? This is not a matter of arguing the value of one combat system over another or the next evolution or revolution of warfare. This is about retaining core virtuous principles that spawn courage, truth and selflessness.

USMC Silent drill squad

“… a corps of moral, disciplined, steely-eyed killers”

Citizens expect such high standards from their Armed Forces: it is why a Marine Corp Private stands head and shoulders above “Occupy Wall Street” types or the likes of Bradley (Chelsea?) Manning. Service members must forfeit many of their erstwhile civilian idiosyncrasies – faddish haircuts, sleeping late, using illegal drugs, and being couch potatoes – in order to become part of a greater whole. First and foremost, our Armed Forces should be a corps of moral, disciplined, steely-eyed killers – exemplified by distinguished commanders such as Arleigh Burke, Chesty Puller and Jim Mattis – that can close with and destroy our Republic’s enemies on the seas and fields of battle. Hence, we must never forget to ride well, shoot straight and speak the truth: even if doing so ruffles some political feathers. Our warriors deserve nothing less.

About the Author:
Lt. Col. David G. Bolgiano is a retired paratrooper who has deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan on multiple occasions. He is the author of Combat Self-Defense: Saving America’s Warriors from Risk-Averse Commanders and their Lawyers and co-author of Fighting Today’s Wars: How America’s Leaders Have Failed Our Warriors.

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Those who guard the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier are at their post 24/7, no matter the weather conditions. As many Americans along the East Coast hunkered down and stayed warm during this years harsh winter weather, members of The Old Guard stood watch over the bodies “Known but to God.” Have you ever wondered what motivates these men?

We will let Sergeant of the Guard, Sgt. 1st Class Tanner Welch tell you.

“It’s about the collective respect for people who have gone before us. And it’s about the sacrifice of the unknowns and all the service members who have gone in front of us. So we want to honor their service. The guys fighting in the mountains of Afghanistan right now are not going to stop if it starts snowing tomorrow. The guys who fought in the mountains of Korea didn’t stop because it started snowing. So we have that same mentality down here and to honor their same sacrifice and their same service we’re not going to stop either.”

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Gen. George Patton

Dear George:

At 07:00 this morning the BBC announced…the landing of Allied paratroopers…. This group of unconquerable heroes, whom I command, are not yet in, but we will be soon….I have no immediate idea of being killed, but one can never tell and none of us can live forever. So if I should go don’t worry, but set yourself to do better than I have….

To be a successful soldier you must know history. Read it objectively—dates and even minute details of tactics are useless. What you must know is how man reacts. Weapons change, but man, who uses them, changes not at all. To win battles you do not beat weapons—you beat the soul of enemy man….

You must read biography and autobiography. If you will do that you will find that war is simple. Decide what will hurt the enemy most within the limits of your capabilities and then do it. TAKE CALCULATED RISKS. That is quite different from being rash. My personal belief is that if you have a 50% chance you should take it, because the superior fighting qualities of American soldiers led by me will surely give you the extra 1% necessary….

You cannot make war safely, but no dead general has ever been criticized, so you have that way out always. I am sure that if every leader who goes into battle will promise himself that he will come out either a conqueror or a corpse, he is sure to win… Defeat is due not to losses but to the destruction of the souls of the leaders. The “live to fight another day” doctrine.

Soldiers, in fact all men, are natural hero worshipers; officers with a flare for command realize this and emphasize in their conduct, dress, and deportment the qualities they seek to produce in their men…..

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The Federal Government was mostly shut down during Hurricane Sandy.

However, this group of federal employees still went to the office as they do Every Day!


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by: Stephen Kilcullen

“…Ranger School isn’t about improving the career prospects of individual candidates. Our motto is “Rangers lead the way.” Many a Ranger has lived these words before being killed in action—certain that if a Ranger couldn’t accomplish the mission, nobody could. This unique culture lures the kind of young, smart soldiers needed to get the toughest jobs done. The promise of something bigger than oneself—bigger than any career track—is what motivates these men.

“…The notion of allowing women into Ranger School because denying them the experience would harm their careers makes Ranger graduates cringe. Such politically correct thinking is the ultimate expression of the “me” culture, and it jeopardizes core Ranger ideals.”

To read more CLICK HERE.

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Sergeant Leslie Halasz Sabo, Jr.

Forty years ago Monday, [Sergeant] Leslie Sabo of Ellwood City died in Cambodia while trying to save his buddies from a North Vietnamese ambush that killed seven of his 101st Airborne Division comrades.

The 22-year-old was recommended posthumously for the nation’s highest award, the Medal of Honor.

Read more CLICK HERE.

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Reluctant Warrior

wisconsin lottery

When asked if he felt like a hero his response was “No, I just did my job.”

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He was impaled by a live RPG during Taliban ambush while on patrol. Army protocol says that medivac choppers are never to carry anyone with a live round in him. Even though they feared it could explode, the flight crew simply ignored the protocol and flew him to the nearest aid station. Again, protocol said that in such a case the patient is to be put in a sandbagged area away from the surgical unit, given a shot of morphine and left to wait (and die) until others are treated. Again, the medical team ignored the protocol.  Here’s a short video put together by the Military Times, which includes actual footage of the surgery where Dr. John Oh, a Korean immigrant who became a naturalized citizen and went to West Point, removed the live round with the help of volunteers and a member of the EOD (explosive ordinance disposal) team.  Moss has undergone six operations but is doing well at home in Gainesville, GA.  I think you’ll find the video absolutely remarkable.

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SSG Austin McCall earned the Bronze Star with Valor and a Purple Heart while serving as an Army Ranger in Afghanistan.

Staff Sergeant Austin McCall says he was inspired to join the Army, like many heroic young Americans these days, because of the events of September 11. He went on to become a Ranger and on January 5, 2010 he earned the Bronze Star while leading his squad to a compound in Eastern Afghanistan. They had received intelligence that it was a “guest house” for a suicide bomber. When he arrived at this compound he was met by an enemy combatant holding two grenades. It was a make or break moment and Sergeant McCall lived up to the challenge.

He was able to shoot the terrorist, but not before the latter launched one of his grenades in the McCall’s direction. What happened next could be measured in milliseconds. The first grenade hit McCall in the chest, landed at his feet, but miraculously did not explode. Instinctively he turned his head towards the rest of the Rangers in his unit and yelled “grenade” as the second one, lying on the enemies chest, exploded.

Flying shrapnel might have killed Sergeant Mcall, had he not turned his head. Although his life was spared, one large piece of medal tore through his cheek and took out two teeth on its exit. With the commotion caused by the grenade other terrorists entered the fray.

In spite of his injuries, McCall maintained his calm and continued to heroically lead his squad. They eventually overcame the enemy and secured the compound. When the dust settled Sergeant McCall was covered in blood from his facial injuries and was forced to endure the pain, without medication, for another half hour before he could be evacuated.

There are two things which make this man worthy of admiration.

The Bronze Star it is the fourth-highest combat award of the U.S. Armed Forces

First of all, he was quick to deflect the praise he earned for his actions. “(As Rangers) that’s just what we do,” he said. “We go to where the fight is. We are there to engage and take care of the bad guys. That’s the way we are. We are all Rangers – the best gun fighters in the world.”

The second thing which makes this warrior worthy of our respect is his willingness to get back into the fight. He was quoted he in an article saying he “looks forward to doing it all over again.” This was not just tough talk either. A month after his brush with death and a most painful injury Sergeant McCall is back in the fight with a scar across the face to prove that it really is “hard to keep a good man down.”

“Readily will I display the intestinal fortitude required to fight on to the Ranger objective and complete the mission though I be the lone survivor.” Last stanza of the Army Ranger creed.

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Lt. Gen. Benjamin Mixon

“After a top-level public scolding over his remarks on the military’s policy regarding gays, the commander of U.S. Army Pacific issued a terse “no comment” yesterday from his headquarters at Fort Shafter.

“Lt. Gen. Benjamin Mixon, one of a few military leaders to publicly denounce the repeal of the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, received a double-barreled blast yesterday from Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

“At issue was a three-paragraph commentary by Mixon in the Stars and Stripes military newspaper on March 8, in which he said he does not believe that most military personnel support repeal of the policy.

For more: Click here

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