It’s Personal

What My Lai and Abu Ghraib Teach Us About Ethics:

When things go wrong not everything goes wrong. In fact sometimes when things go wrong we often see examples of moral courage that we wouldn’t see if the challenges weren’t so great.

Abu Ghraib and My Lai are two examples of this in history.

My Lai

A forgotten hero stopped the My Lai massacre 50 years ago today
W01 Thompson

On 16 March 1968, WO1 Hugh C. Thompson, Jr. and his two-man helicopter crew were on a reconnaissance mission over the village of My Lai, Republic of Vietnam. WO1 Thompson watched in horror as he saw an American Soldier shoot an injured Vietnamese child. Minutes later, he observed more Soldiers advancing on a number of civilians in a ditch. Suspecting possible reprisal shootings, WO1 Thompson landed his helicopter and questioned a young officer about what was happening. Told that the ground combat action was none of his business, WO1 Thompson took off and continued to circle the embattled area.

When it became apparent to Thompson that the American troops had now begun firing on more unarmed civilians, he landed his helicopter between the Soldiers and a group of ten villagers headed towards a homemade bomb shelter. Thompson ordered his gunner to train his weapon on the approaching Soldiers and to fire if necessary. Then he personally coaxed the civilians out of the shelter and airlifted them to safety.

WO1 Thompson’s immediate radio reports about what was happening triggered a cease-fire order that ultimately saved the lives of many more villagers. Thompson’s willingness to place himself in physical danger to do the ethically and morally right thing was a sterling example of personal and moral courage

FM 6-22, Headquarters, Department of the Army, 2006

The right thing wasn’t what the group was doing. It was what an individual chose to do.

Abu Ghraib

Another example of moral triumph in the face of adversity occurred during the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse.  The popular narrative of the abuse focuses on the lewdness of a few Soldiers and their abandonment of their Army values. This is certainly one narrative.

Image result for abu ghraib photos
Prisoner Abuse

There is also a separate narrative exists where morals and values shine.  The story is that of Joe Darby, a SGT with a reserve unit responsible for operations at the now infamous prison. Two years after the incident Darby gave an interview with Army Times:

In January 2004, Darby asked Spec. Charles Graner for copies of some photos as mementos, and Graner gave him a CD. While sorting through photos on his computer, Darby hit one that stopped him.

“It was the pyramid of Iraqis, but I didn’t realize it was Iraqis,” he said. “Soldiers do some pretty messed-up things for entertainment, so I thought it was the MPs. I laughed at it and moved on the next picture. That’s when I realized they were prisoners.”

Darby said he stewed over the decision for three weeks, but in the end, he knew what he had to do.

“Everybody gets ethics training in the Army,” Darby said. “We know the proper way was to go through the chain of command, but I had to go outside my chain.”

And, he said, he feared for his life.

“I was afraid of Graner and the rest of his unit,” Darby said. “I knew when I turned them in that they were going to prison.”

Darby copied the disc, wrote an anonymous letter, stuck both in a manila folder and slipped the package to the Criminal Investigation Division.

Within half an hour, CID investigators had him in their office. Darby identified the seven soldiers in the photos for investigators. But while he was there, another investigator brought in three of the soldiers he had just turned in. The investigators shielded Darby’s identity, then they wrapped him in rugs and blankets and sneaked him out of the office.

For the next three weeks, he said, he hid in his closet when he slept because the soldiers he had turned in continued their duties at Abu Ghraib. He said he breathed a sigh of relief when the soldiers he had identified were finally arrested.

Then, during a TV interview broadcast while Darby was eating in a dining hall with 400 other soldiers, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld named him as the whistleblower.

“I didn’t know it was going to be this big and hurt the Army,” he said, “but it had to be done.”  

Kennedy, 2006 (reprinted with Permission

The popular narrative sees Abu Ghraib as only the worst moralistic challenge of the Army in Iraq.  The less popular story shows it as a triumph of an individual conscience. Despite knowing it would send his fellow Soldiers to prison, despite having to sleep in his wall locker for three weeks, despite having to move his family and never return to his home town, Joe Darby stands by what he did.  And what he did was a nothing if not an expression of conscience.

It’s Personal

Ethics are always personal. These two examples are more extreme cases but they are still representative of the larger movement. In the trolly situation no government rule will tell the driver which course of action to choose. The person making the choice isn’t some bureaucrat in an office somewhere. It’s the driver. He might be informed by something someone else said, but it’s his choice.

As long as we remain in the driver’s seat in our lives we are exercising personalistic ethics. Personalistic ethics aren’t the exception. They’re the norm. Saying otherwise reduces someone’s liberty and liberty is one of the great denominators.

Photo by Leo Cardelli on

The Right Prescription

One of the greatest challenges we have with obstacles in our personal and professional lives is making them visible. There’s a book for that on my book list. There’s also lots of books at Amazon about what to do to remove the obstacles. Usually these books contain some overarching framework and several anecdotal examples that illustrate the author’s point. Annie Duke’s Thinking In Bets helps to adjust to the uncertainty of information when making decisions, but what do you do if the system you have for creating options isn’t yielding good results?

The answer is to change it! But how often is that easier said than done?

The military has a huge amount of rigidity built into its culture. It excels at teaching this rigidity in the basic training of each of the services. For the Army, basic training involves learning to fire a rifle. The experience of firing a rifle is new to some of those who join, and even for those that have fired before the type of rifle and shooting expectations for the Army are different from their previous experiences.

Completing the rifle portion of basic training is a non-waiverable requirement. The guy who enlisted to play the bugle in the band has to qualify the same as someone likely to be closer to the front lines. Getting folks trained to where they can pass is the responsibility of the Drill Sergeant.

Photo by Pixabay on

Jenny loves to shoot. Jenny became a Drill Sergeant. When someone who knows how to shoot is around people who can’t it can turn into a rather frustrating situation. I remember (over 20 years ago now) when I was in basic training if you couldn’t shoot you’d often get an earful. Somehow, Jenny came up with a different strategy that I think has broader application in than just on the firing range in the military.

When a soldier couldn’t shoot, Jenny would run through the basic troubleshooting steps. How’s your steady position? Are you breathing properly? Are you squeezing the trigger instead of jerking it? How’s your sight picture?

These are the questions to ask to assess the obstacles facing the soldier. Applying corrective action in one or more of these areas will likely solve the majority of problems, but they don’t solve all the problems. Basic training for a volunteer army doesn’t disqualify candidates like you might think. It tries to take those who are willing to volunteer and get them to the point they are capable of volunteering. There’s a lot of investment made to get those willing to become those who are capable.

Some people issues aren’t fixed by the responses to the questions above. But those are all the question the organization provides. That is, until Jenny gets there and sees things differently. Jenny started looking at their prescriptions.

What she found was that some soldiers would get their prescription glasses issued with the prescriptions reversed, the wrong prescription, or missed realizing that they needed glasses. The issue for some people was just straight vision related.

We’ve talked a lot about perspective taking. Here’s a case where it literally was the answer! But it’s also the answer to a lot of what we do in life. Sometimes when we’re working with someone who’s consistently missing their work targets the answer is to take them aside and help them get their prescription checked.

Photo by Murilo Folgosi on

ACP: Thank You

The way the Transition Assistance Program (TAP) executed by Department of Labor which is responsible for training those leaving the military is not without it’s criticisms.   I found my experience to be extraordinary oriented towards the sort of job hunting that is generally proven to be the most difficult i.e. blindly submit your resume to companies and hope they call you back.  It did very little to help you understand the language of corporate America or teach you about leveraging networking opportunities.

This wouldn’t be so bad if the class didn’t consistently try to sell itself as being more than it actually is.  It’s a one week course (with some additional follow-on training) in how to make sure you apply for your government benefits and practice the blindly applying job hunting formula.  During my experience the instructor repeatedly stated (at least 7 times an hour) that this “was a congressionally mandated training that you must participate in in order to separate from the service.”  As one of my buddies put it, “I don’t know any congressman who’s going to care if I miss a few hours.”  Reminding me that I being forced to be there didn’t exactly make me want to be there.

I was also a bit unique in the audience.  Most of them were separating after 4-6 years.  I was finishing out 20.  In general a job for them would be a fine place to land after service.  I needed to start my next career.  I wasn’t a good fit for the class, and it wasn’t a good fit for my needs.  It has a lot of potential, but the top-down nature of the program limits the instructor’s ability to make the program better from the ground up.

There is no measurement to track its effectiveness that I’m aware of. Like many things in the government, it just merely exists.

And I don’t bring this up as a rant, but without understanding the environment by some brief description it will be difficult to understand how grateful I am for the American Corporate Partners (ACP) program.

ACP is this wonderful partnering and mentoring program that allows qualified transitioning service members to be able to pair up with a mentor usually from a Fortune 500 company.  It requires a brief application that can be done in a couple of hours (if you’re starting from zero–much faster if you’ve got a resume ready) and it gives you access to someone who is already working in the career field you want to be working in.

In my case I wanted to do IT Project Management and I was partnered with a work-from-home IT Project Manager from Wells Fargo.  His name was Gore and he and I would talk about every two weeks from the time I started the program until I transistioned.

During our conversations we’d discuss what his work day looked like.  We’d talk about projects we were proud of.  He and I spent several sessions having me be a ‘junior PM’ on a fictitious project at Wells so I could get the feel for how to work a project through that organization.  Gore was such a good representative of his company that I applied for several positions at Wells Fargo.

I learned a lot of the little things you can’t learn any other way.  During our chats Gore would say something that would open a window to how projects work in his environment, at that scale, and with those types of stakeholders that I didn’t even think to consider.  We discussed things like balancing between policy requirements and stakeholder demands, necessary skills for success, and approaches for difficult circumstances.

When the mentorship window officially ended I was in the midst of applying for jobs.  I didn’t have anything I could concretely say at the time about how much the program helped me transition–because I hadn’t found where I was transitioning to yet.  A few weeks later I landed the best job I could have asked for.  I wanted to write and tell ACP and Gore how much it meant, but I jumped into long days and didn’t have the perspective to know if I was going to be successful long-term.  Now I do.

We’re just about to wrap up Wave 1 of a very large project.  I was put on the most difficult track and managed it and the stakeholders well enough that I’ve been asked to conduct training on my techniques and best practices.  I also got personally invited to help manage Wave 2 and I’ve had a few supervisors send my boss extremely positive feedback about my performance.

Now that I have the perspective to know how valuable this program is, I want to take the time to say thank you. Thank you Bernard for matching me with Gore.  Thank you Gore for helping me how things work, and to the unnamed people who created this program in the first place.  Thank you for filling the gap to help veterans.  Thank you for making your program nimble to our needs.

Lastly, if you’re transitioning TAP class will tell you it’s mandatory to do various things (they have a checklist).  Talking ACP isn’t mandatory, but it’s one of the smartest things you could do as you’re preparing to leave the service.

Thank you!

Idaho Character

For over a year I’ve been proud to be a part of one of the greatest teams you’ve probably never heard of. I work at the Boise Military Entrance Processing Station (MEPS). There are 65 MEPS across the country and each one assess the aptitudes, physical capacity, and background history of the young men and women wanting to join the armed service of their choice. It’s not possible without the great crew dedicated to fairly applying DoD standards as efficiently as possible. Boise continues to rank among the top-tier across the nation for efficient processes and customer service.

One of the many roles includes serving as the swear in officer. A few times each day I ask these young men and women to raise their right hand and repeat the words of the oath of enlistment.  At this point I’ve conducted several hundred of these ceremonies and enlisted more than 1,900 people into the service.  It didn’t take me long to memorize the oath of enlistment:

I, _____, do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God.”

The transition into military life isn’t for the faint of heart and the oath isn’t for those of thin character.

An applicant who enlisted in the Marine Corps wearing his tribe’s uniform.

At the end of the oath ceremony I’ve been asked several times to pose for a photograph with the military’s newest enlistees. I gladly comply if asked, but over the months and weeks I’ve learned to have the applicant stand with the seal of their chosen service in front of the nation’s flag. I call this the “Mom Photo” because it’s the photo that moms are happy to post of their children.  If parents aren’t available the recruiters will step in as the photographers and send the photo later to the enlistee’s family.

For several weeks I had been teaching recruiters to take and share these photos when something out of the ordinary happened.

It started with quite a normal scene.  I walked into the ceremony room with our red carpet and inside were two applicants, a young man with his family and a young lady with her recruiter.  They were both dressed respectfully and immediately went to attention when I walked in the room.  (This is done out of respect for my authority as an officer and the oath, not who I am as a person.)

The young lady, sharp as a whip and ready to go, finished the oath and stood proudly as her photo was taken.  In the process of helping her pose for the photo I explained that I nicknamed the photo, the mom photo and suggested she send the picture to her mother.

Her countenance quickly changed. I could tell I created a difficult moment in her life. I wasn’t sure what I had done wrong, but after taking the photo I stepped out of the room and she remained in the room with the other applicant and his family.

When I saw her next to sign her paperwork I could tell she had been crying. My heart sank. I felt that I must have done a terrible thing. We finished the paperwork for both applicants and I stood up to walk down the hall to follow-up and apologize.

One of the recruiters stopped me and he too had an emotional expression on his face. He told me what happened after I left the ceremony room.

The young lady shared that due to her mom’s poor choices her mom was living over 2,000 miles away and not a part of her life at the moment.   She said she wouldn’t be sending the photo to her mom.  When she was coming back in a few months to ship for basic training mom and dad wouldn’t be there.

The other family heard this and without hesitation stepped in and offered to attend the ceremony and write the young lady while she’s off at basic training.  One moment she didn’t have a bit of family in the room.  The next she had been adopted by one of the many families I’ve seen in that ceremony room during my time administering the oath.

That day’s circumstances were extraordinary, but I think extraordinary is typical of the people in this state.

In my official capacity it would have been inappropriate for me to write down names or dates.  You see, she leaves to put on her uniform after I’m done wearing mine.  I don’t remember when she’s coming back to ship out for basic training, but I know that people in this state mean what they say, and say what they mean.

Somewhere in Florida there’s a mother out there who’s unaware that her daughter is being loved, and I couldn’t even tell you who’s doing it, but I don’t know of anyone I’ve met at the MEPS who wouldn’t have stepped up and done the same thing as this family.

There’s an obscure regulation in the MEPS that advises me to share some life advice before administering the oath.  Sometimes I tell the applicants in front of me that the State they represent when they go off to start their careers might be famous for its potatoes, but the real gems of this great State are the people.


Organizational Structure Effects On Project Management Activities With The 44th Expeditionary Signal Battalion (ESB)

In February of 2014 Russian forces invaded portions of Ukraine massively disrupting the politically tenuous balance of Eastern European states.  Heads of state and state departments issued harsh words and strong positions (, 2014).  The US Forces in Europe began partnered operations with NATO allies in the Baltic States and Poland.  Moving from their home stations to locations without a US authorized communication infrastructure required the deployment of the theater’s tactical communications assets.  The sole tactical signal battalion in the Europe is the 44th Expeditionary Signal Battalion.

Having worked at the unit since October of 2013 I am familiar with its organizational structure and the stresses caused by executing multiple projects.  It is my intent in this paper to discuss the formal organizational structure, informal structure, formal and informal team formations and management as well as the positive and negative effects of this structure on its ability to execute and manage projects.  

Some might argue that because it is the military’s job to deploy in support of strategic operations that the activities of the military aren’t considered projects.  It is the opinion of this author that military operations are often projects merely wrapped in non standard doctrine.  According to the PMBOK “a project is a temporary endeavor undertaken to create a unique product, service, or result” (Institute, 2013)  In the case of the 44th ESB each team level deployment is a project as it creates a temporary service that is unique in the time and space of that operation.

The formal organization structure of the 44th ESB is hierarchical.  The organization has elements of being a weak-matrix organization, functional organization and project based resulting in its classification as a hybrid.  Depending on the required effort it adjusts to a hybrid of these organizational structures with greater emphasis on certain aspects in response to mission requirements.  One of the biggest indicators of the 44th being a weak matrix organization is a lack of budgeting control at the organizational level.  Whereas the PMBOK discusses budgeting control being with the project manager, 44th ESB’s budget is controlled by a functional staff member two echelons above.  Project budgets are controlled one echelon above that but with functional managers, not project managers.  

44th also operates as a functional organization in many regards.  When Soldiers aren’t actively preparing to deploy, on deployment, or returning from deployment, they are training for it.  This training is intended to be done on a routine basis with six weeks of predictability at a time.  In addition to training, the administrative overhead required by law and military regulation supplies ample evidence of a functional organization.  Simply moving a vehicle requires upwards of six sheets of paperwork.  Full medical physicals are required for each Soldier each year.  Asking questions about pay issues requires two levels of permission slips.  There’s enough self inflicted work to do without additional projects.

The organization also contains some elements of being project based.  For each project the organization assigns a project manager (action officer) who is appointed with the same authority as the organizational head.  This delegation of responsibility and empowerment authority allows the organization to function as a project based organization even though the project manager lacks the budgeting control at their level.

Despite the doctrinally demanded hierarchy, informal structures have developed as Marchewka put it “over time as a result of the inevitable relationships and internetworking of people within the organization” (Marchewka, 2015).  With upwards of 38% annual organizational turnover due to internal and external moves, one of the quickest ways the informal structures get built is through communications among peers.  This communication among peers is reinforced through the organization’s training program where various peer group levels will be addressed regardless of hierarchical orientation.  These peer based informal relationships encourage leaders to share products and ideas across the hierarchical boundaries.  Many of the deliverables generated for efforts at team levels are shared across the organization increasing efficiency and creating a defacto standard for the deliverable.

Teams that deploy are sometimes on assignment for as little as one week or as long as several months.  On the longer deployments the customers receiving the support have been known to transition out while the initial group of Soldiers often remains.  Bona fide group theory (Droge, 2004) discusses how group member communication can be used as evidence of group formation and functionality.  While the training prior to a deployment and assignment to the established team structure certainly helps, the communication evidence for a bona fide group sometimes don’t appear until after several weeks of shared experiences during deployment (project execution).  

The individuals functioning in the rear echelons conducting monitor and control process group are generally drawn from several different functional areas.  The experience of project management and execution gives them several communicative opportunities and eventually their dynamic would qualify as a group under bona fide group theory.  Bona fide group theory provides an excellent framework for identifying informal structures and relationships within the organization.  Although I’ve only mentioned a couple of applications of the theory there are certainly more within an organization the size of the 44th ESB.  

Teams within the 44th ESB are formed formally, informally, and deliberately.  Individuals are assigned to formal teams upon arrival to the organization.  These formal teams are approved by centralized planned equipment oriented manning requirements.  These centralized plans are easily dated as equipment and customer requirements change.  Therefore many Soldiers find themselves working in informally created teams based upon current best practices for deployment.  The third team assignment method is deliberate.  Often orders will be published assigning requiring a particular combination of skillsets for a given project.  This local ordered team is deliberately created for a deployment or unit project.

Teams are managed using the military’s hierarchical rank structure.  The senior ranking person takes charge of the team.  This does not omit certain member’s influence within the team, but officially the person with the highest rank is the one in charge.  In reality the military informally recognizes five different types of leadership influence.  These five types of leadership influence are commonly referred to as the five types of power.  They are legitimate, reward, expert, coercive and reverent.  While the senior ranking person is able to exercise the ultimate legitimate power for the team, other team members with seniority can also exercise it amongst subordinates.  Reward, coercive, reverent, and expert power can be exercised by various team members regardless of ranking hierarchy.

I feel that the most powerful way to improve team management and project performance within the 44th ESB is through its internal communication.  Because the typical deployable element is a team and the unit has 30 teams to track and manage.  When 80% of its assets were deployed they needed to be managed in some degree as twenty-four separate projects.  As Senscu et al demonstrated in their 2013 article, project complexity affects communication (Senescu, 2013).  Subordinate leaders to a good job managing their portion of each of these projects, but being able to get specific information relevant to a project often involves interrupting intermediate managers to pull information that could otherwise be readily available to all stakeholders.  

With the management requirements caused by geographical dispersement and diversity of projects, improvements to internal communication aren’t easy.  Many times we focus on the processes required by regulation instead of the customer to whom we’re supporting.  One measure of a good project is its ability at the end to capture lessons learned and publish those lessons to improve future efforts.  At the moment lessons learned aren’t efficiently captured and are often so heavily filtered that significant information that ought to get to high level decision makers doesn’t make it to that level.

Leveraging a centralized data repository that can customize information for stakeholders would be a vast improvement over the current management thought email.  Outside of the military civilian communication technology has evolved to allow a wide variety of communications tools.  Due to security, bureaucracy, and technical ignorance the unit still manages much of its efforts using Microsoft Outlook and Microsoft SharePoint 2010.  

The Department of Defense has taken a more aggressive approach in adapting new communication to methods for military use.  It has created a suite of applications called MilSuite by porting over and actively developing open source projects.  MediaWiki, the same technology that powers Wikipedia is part of the suite as well as WordPress and Jive (MilSuite, 2015).  Although there is currently not a Slack equivalent MilSuite’s active development and feedback mechanisms gives the possibility that MatterMost (an open source Slack equivalent) could be included in future iterations.  I believe that leveraging an adaptive tool set based upon open source tools can help to improve the internal communications issues that reduce communications effectiveness.  I believe that by making these strides we can improve team management and project performance.  


Droge, D. (2004). Small group communication: Theory and practice (8th ed.); New directions in group communication; Group communication in context: Studies of bona fide groups (2nd ed.). Communication Education, 53(4), 365-369. doi:10.1080/0363452032000305977

Institute, P. M. (2013). A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK Guide) (PMBOK Guide). Project Management Institute.

Marchewka, J. T. (2015). Information Technology Project Management, 5th Edition. John Wiley & Sons.

MilSuite. (2015, June 2). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 17:39, June 12, 2016, from (2014, March 03). Russian troop invasion encircles Crimea’s capital as Ukraine PM declares the nation to be on ‘brink of disaster’. Retrieved June 12, 2016, from

Senescu, R. R., Aranda-Mena, G., & Haymaker, J. R. (2013). Relationships between Project Complexity and Communication. Journal Of Management In Engineering, 29(2), 183-197. doi:10.1061/(ASCE)ME.1943-5479.0000121

Ignoring Stakeholders While Upgrading

When the United States Army isn’t deployed fighting a war, they’re supposed to be training for it.  As a part of the Executive Branch they are required by law to account for its use of authorized funding.  As the fiscal times reported in March of 2015 the DoD can’t account for $8,500,000,000,000.  One of the areas where the Army has tried to improve its accountability is in its training management system.  In 2014 the Digital Training Management System (DTMS) received a major upgrade that turned it into a thoroughly embarrassing debacle within the Army.

Once released the new website lasted for just a few hours before software issues caused the site to go down for maintenance for several weeks.  Although released in October, problems were so bad that the Army withheld its press release touting the new features until January 12th of 2015.  Attention to detail was so low that when it did publish the article the press release stated it was published in 2014 because Mike Casey (the author) didn’t remember to change the date to 2015.  This lack of attention to detail during the project development lifecycle doesn’t begin or end with a delayed and miss dated press release.

While the aforementioned press release mentions how the program serves commanders in conducting training management it fails to identify which level of commander.  My personal opinion is that it serves commanders at BDE level and higher who would have a difficult time gathering training information on their more than 1000+ formations without the use of an automated tool such as DTMS.  

The command level that is the least served by the software is at the company level, the lowest level of command, where all of the required data entry occurs.  A company of approximately 100 individuals requires two full time personnel to manage the automated system.  Lower level stakeholders seem to have been neglected throughout the process.  

Other errors that affect lower level stakeholders include:

  • A non-intuitive interface requiring a full 40 hours of training before use
  • No back-button after saving an event requiring full navigation through the home screen to edit the next event.
  • Built on Microsoft Silverlight, a technology that forces the site to be run on older versions of Internet Explorer and one that has been abandoned by its creator, Microsoft
  • Limited resources to address issues found through feedback (some recommendations are years old with no resolution)
  • Unable to upload documents en masse (feature is listed as an option and fails upon execution)
  • Unable to make adjustments to the personnel assigned to the unit causing miscalculations of averages and aggregate data by including individuals no longer with the unit or misassigned
  • Exports to poorly designed formats
  • Exports UserID from database in Excel but hides the column with the UserID
  • Website susceptible to URL code injection
  • Higher echelons have more control over the data but are least familiar with it making it easy for them to misalign personnel and accidently delete crucial records with no easy method of restoration (no undo button) causing repeated efforts at lower levels to repair the mistake.

    A bad system is a good thing to learn from.  These issues are indicators of a project management team that failed to assess the project’s complexity and overlooked key stakeholders.  My role in the project was at the lowest command level where we were told to utilize the new system only to watch it go down for several weeks due to implementation issues.  Since then we’ve made efforts to assert ourselves as stakeholders using the appropriate feedback mechanisms only to have our perspective marginalized in the process.

    It’s a bit easier to see how the DoD can’t account for $8,500,000,000,000 when they fail to implement good project management practices while updating their training management system.

Act Utilitarianism

This type of ethical base is best summed up as “End-Result” ethics.  It is commonly thought of as having the ends justifying the means.   This ethical model has a rich heritage engaging ancient Greek and Roman philosophers.  The classical summation for this ethic is “that the right action is the one which produces the greatest amount of happiness or pleasure for the greatest number of beings.”  In a simplistic sense, people who care about results employ this ethic.  

Within the Army we formally apply end-result ethics on both the NCO and officer evaluations.  In order to warrant “excellence” one must do something that is unique, quantifiable, and contributes to the success or “good” of the unit.  This formal reinforcement indicates that our organization expects results, and applies end-results ethics.  It is the responsibility of leaders to make determinations on what is the best “good” for the most people.  In some measure this is what commanders do when they sign risk assessments.  They determine which areas they are willing to assume risk, and which controls to implement.  In this aspect they make direct decisions on what is the “greatest good” for those who will be participating in the training, balancing consequences with results.

    Because this has been formally reinforced, most members of the Army may not see these goal-oriented items as having any ethical consequences.  Just because it appears to not be potentially unethical doesn’t mean that the area of decision exists without ethics playing some role.  The term unethical implies a decision must have negative consequences.  The potentially negative consequences for failing in one’s responsibility with regard to risk assessments, or considering the good of the unit when making decisions, will have negative consequences with ripple effects throughout the unit.  In civilian businesses, management will employ a cost-benefit analysis that may also appear to not have ethical dimensions.  These perspectives depend upon how one “punctuates” the situation.  The stockholders will feel a negative consequence if their stock decreases in value, because a competitor took advantage of a market opportunity deemed too risky by their business.  

The goal-oriented expectations of our organization encourage end-result ethics to be applied at the individual or local level.  In our individualized American philosophical heritage, it is assumed that only the individual can properly calculate out what is best for him.  As one applies this ethic across the board to a broader audience, the ability to determine what is good for all becomes difficult, because the population’s diversity leads to different goals.  Hayek understood this in his economic works when he stated, “The principle that the end justifies the means is in individualist ethics regarded as the denial of all morals. In collectivist ethics it becomes necessarily the supreme rule.”  When a Soldier applies this ethic in combat environments integrated with civilians, he assumes that he knows the greatest good for all of those individuals, and in making the decision for them, assumes a level of authority that may or may not be inherent in his mission.

To counter this enticing application of power, there exists a negative connotation of end-results ethics in American society.  This sort of ethical application is often associated with America’s enemies and not with America itself.  This ethic is often seen as the justifying force behind historical and modern enemies such as, Emperor Hirohito of Japan, Hitler & Goebbels, Stalin, Fidel Castro & Ché Guevara, Mussolini, North Korea, The Taliban based government in Afghanistan, the oppressive dictatorship of Saddam in Iraq, S.T.O.R.M., The Invisible Committee, and the 9/11 terrorists.  Khalid Sheikh Mohammed’s response to the charges brought against him are a good example of this ethic being employed by an enemy.  These documents are narrated with repugnance for the general American public, because he reduces America’s moralistic platform by employing a simplistic narration, selecting facts that would only compliment his cause.

During WWII the association of this ethic with America’s enemies emerged in various forms of propaganda created during the time period.  In Frank Capra’s WWII era documentary, “Why We Fight,” the case for defeating the tyrannical governments in Europe and Japan was based upon a conflicting ideology that destroyed freedom.  Yet even while Hollywood was working to get the nation behind preserving freedoms through war the FBI was trying to prosecute Larry Fly for protecting those freedoms specifically guarded by the constitution.

It seems those outside of government were being taught  the maxim that “a nation unwilling to fight an ideological war, will be unable to win the physical one,” but as is often the case those in power were singing a different tune.  

The promoted concept of the films were that if the governments of Germany, Italy, and Japan, were oppressive to their own people, they would in turn be oppressive to every people.  In the United States the citizenry is understood to be the sovereign of the nation, and to oppress those who are seen as the sovereign violates the national cultural and legal foundation to our governance.  Well did our founders promote the ethical ideas of Cicero, enshrining in our government a unique perspective of authority.  Cicero writes, “the administration of the government, like a guardianship, ought to be directed to the good of those who confer, and not of those who receive the trust.”

The iconic image of those who participate in this form of end-results ethics views the actors as societal deviants and not the norm.  Though this ethic is ascribed to our enemies and societal deviants, there is a cultural acknowledgement that certain circumstances warrant purely end-result ethics regardless of application level, but these are presented as rare and very dramatic cases.  Examples of cultural acceptance of end-result ethics include scenarios where the hero must ignore common social norms and sometimes the law.  Usually it is the immediate benefit of the preservation of lives that is used in these examples.  Our physical laws follow this cultural trend.  Trespassing laws in most states do not apply to law enforcement in pursuit of their duty to preserve life.  If someone’s life is threatened on private land, the threat to his or her life is considered justification for entering private property.  The fictional characters of James Bond, Jack Bauer, and, Jason Bourne are known for demonstrating a result-based ethic.  We have a cultural acceptance of individual-focused end-result ethics.  

The members of our military emerge from, and consume these cultural materials and are aware of end-result ethics.  Their station in the military places them in a position of great power, and end-result ethics require power to function.  What they may not be aware of is the slippery slope caused by applying this ethical premise.  If the ends justify the means, then to which ends does one place as a goal?  Does an excessive use of force to disperse a hostile crowd, justify the potential injury or death of innocent civilians?  How much collateral damage is acceptable when engaging a target?  What level of target justifies collateral damage?  Does the R.O.E. need a codified collateral damage to high priority target ratio?  

End-results ethics isn’t just a free-for-all of do what you think is good.  It’s a calculated decision making process that uses positive consequences as its basis for operations.  It is the ethical format of “meaning to do well” which may or may not turn out to be the case.

This ethic is no better enshrined within the Army than in the Military Decision Making Process (MDMP) from FM 5-0.

The military decision making process is an iterative planning methodology that integrates the activities of the commander, staff, subordinate headquarters, and other partners to understand the situation and mission; develop and compare courses of action; decide on a course of action that best accomplishes the mission; and produce an operation plan or order for execution.

In order to evaluate these courses of action, the commander and staff will develop a matrix and evaluative criteria.  This criterion comes from a “relative importance to the commander’s guidance.”  This mission oriented cost analysis clearly allows the Commander to weigh the costs of each potential consequence of his plan.  He employs this planning model as a way to carefully evaluate key factors.  Here the “greatest good” is as the NCO creed states, “the accomplishment of [the] mission, and the welfare of [each] Soldier.”  Each commander who employs this planning mechanism is engaging in a process that allows and requires him to weigh the positive and negative consequences of each operation.  FM 5-0 specifically cites that “Commanders adjust criterion selection and weighting according to their own experience and vision. The staff member responsible for a functional area scores each COA using those criteria.”  This scoring mechanism is symptomatic of the application of end-result ethics.  MDMP is one of the clearest ways in which the Army applies end-result ethics.  

End-result ethics are part of the culture our military members consume and are drawn from.  It is the act of calculating the value of the results against the consequences.  Even though our formal evaluation systems encourage results, this ethic is normally associated with our enemies.  It is used at times culturally and historically in circumstances of great distress.  It is canonized in the Military Decision Making Process.  It is not inappropriate to suggest that application and misapplication of this ethic is a statistical reality in the Army.