RETIRED COMMAND SGT. MAJ. JOHN GIOIA
Fort Bragg, North Carolina
If a Soldier ever was to ask the question, “How do I survive a 15-month deployment?” the answer would be one word: “discipline.”
Discipline is the cornerstone upon which our Army was built. All Soldiers, for the most part, understand what the standards are, but some do not possess the discipline to fulfill their obligation in achieving the standard. Whether we are talking about the discipline to wear the uniform correctly — both inside and outside the wire — or the discipline to do the hard right over the easy wrong, it’s all about personal choice.
While out on battlefield circulations, you will find it is very rare that a Soldier does not fully understand what the standards are. In fact, when I made an on-the-spot correction, more often than not they told me, “Sergeant major, I know I am wrong.” What it really boils down to is the Soldier does not possess the discipline to meet that standard.
What I really have an issue with is the noncommissioned officer who doesn’t enforce the standard. NCOs don’t get an option to say, “Well, I’m going to take a break today and not make the correction,” and then decide to start enforcing the standard the next day. NCOs must always enforce the standard. Some Soldiers will meet the standards only when sergeants enforce them. It takes moral courage to walk up to someone who is wrong and say, “Soldier, fix it.” And that is the job of a leader, not a follower.
Having the pride and character to be disciplined, in the end, can help a Soldier successfully complete the mission. Now, don’t get me wrong; the enemy gets a vote, but think of the decisions a Soldier makes daily on the battlefield. A Soldier decides his attitude for the day, how he wears his uniform, how he respects leaders, how he treats the opposite sex and, in the end, how he conducts himself ethically and morally.
In dealing with an escalation of force, a Soldier decides to shoot or not to shoot. In dealing with his individual force protection, a Soldier decides whether he is going to wear his proper kit — complete with gloves and eye protection. In dealing with his individual weapon, a Soldier decides whether he is going to be careful or negligent. In dealing with safety, a Soldier decides whether to take a shortcut — and shortcuts, in this environment, can be deadly.
All of these decisions Soldiers make on their own. We know that a leader is responsible for everything his Soldiers do — or fail to do. Leaders are great at enforcing standards and some would argue that a leader can make a Soldier disciplined. I submit that it is an accurate statement. You have to admit that it sure would be great if every Soldier practiced good Army discipline. Instead, there are some who like to take shortcuts or try to manipulate standards to benefit themselves.
As for enforcing standards, it doesn’t matter what standard we’re talking about because a standard is, after all, a standard. It’s set for a reason — because somebody before us thought about an issue and said, “You know what we need here to prevent this from happening again? We need a standard.” So, we’ve already learned the hard way once. Why should we have to learn it again and again and again — especially if it comes at the cost of a Soldier’s life? That’s what makes our Army great. Think about it. There’s a standard for everything we do; we just have to have the discipline to meet those standards.
So, how do you survive a 15-month deployment? The answer is simple. You do what’s right — morally and ethically — every day. You possess the moral courage to be disciplined. You do what is right when no one is looking — every day for 15 straight months. You do not succumb to taking shortcuts that may get you or your battle buddies wounded or killed.