Brave Rifles: The Problem of a Godless Army
I love God. I love the Army. The collusion of these two drove me to write Brave Rifles.
But something is wrong…
A View from the Front
In 2013, the Army sent me to my first ever divisional assignment and to say that it opened my eyes was a mild euphemism. I cherished my three years in the unit, though I never expected to encounter the affliction that has become so unfortunately common.
But, I loved it. I loved the soldiers, earnest young men and women, many of whom truly wanted to make a difference in this world. It wasn’t lost on me that nearly all of them enlisted after September 11th knowing that a deployment to combat was likely imminent at some point. I loved the NCO’s, a magnificent group of seasoned and respected sergeants who served as the glue that held things together when they seemed likely to fall apart. I loved the officers, a group of committed young patriots—bright, energetic, and motivated. The lieutenants and captains are light-years ahead of where I was at a similar point in my career.
Yet, something was wrong. I could tell from the beginning, but could not diagnose the issue. I observed and watched. As a Battalion Commander and then the rear detachment Brigade Commander of over 3,000 soldiers, I had a front-row seat to the action. And as I observed, I deliberated. Something was amiss, but I could not quite fathom what. Lots of symptoms, but what was the source?
Walking around, you would never know something was wrong. Soldiers looked just about the same as they always looked. Our Brigade performed magnificently in combat, yet two things consistently captured my attention: the sheer breadth of affliction within the ranks and the yeoman’s efforts of commanders and 1SG’s in addressing the affliction.
The Army has always prided itself on being a values-based organization, insisting upon integrity at all levels. We drill the Army Values of,
– Selfless Service
– Personal Courage
into the heads of new soldiers from the first day of basic training. The Army Values are good, all necessary to build trust, an essential component in combat and to a self-professed values-based organization. Interestingly, the Army Values could have been lifted straight from the pages of Scripture. Were I to biblically expound the attributes of a soldier, they would probably look a lot like the Army Values.
Further, the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) supports the ethos of the Army, reinforcing that which the Army declared important. Thus, things that may not be an issue in the civilian world will quickly have you running afoul of Army leadership. As an example, the Army maintains, for now anyway, a well-defined sexual ethic. Adultery violates the UCMJ. Now, it’s exceedingly difficult to prove adultery, as a commander literally needs a confession, a positive blood test on a child, or some other ‘proof’ of the act. Yet, it is against the UCMJ and soldiers may be punished if found guilty of committing adultery.
Again, this and other aspects of the UCMJ could have been lifted straight from the pages of the Bible. The Army Values, the Warrior Ethos, the UCMJ: these all serve as a rudder, guarding the hearts and actions of soldiers and serving as the anchor for the entire organization. Against this backdrop, I’ve labored over company commanders, 1SG’s, and the impossible tasks the Army demands of them.
We had a senior Army leader visit the installation, and as a Brigade-level leader I was privileged to attend a forum with him and the other commanders. He remarked that every commander and 1SG on every installation that he visited remarked that the Army required way more of them than there was time to do. An issue as long as I’ve been in the Army, the literal requirements placed upon company level leadership greatly outpaced their capacity (time) to complete these requirements.
Wong and Gerras from the War College drew upon some of this analysis as for years, the Army reported ‘all complete’ on extraneous requirements out of one side of its mouth yet with the other, complained that there was not enough time in the day to accomplish all of the necessary tasks. Well, which was it?
This particular senior leader believed the issue to be one of prioritization. The commanders should prioritize their requirements, obtain buy-in from their leadership, and then execute what they are able. Allow their senior leaders to provide top-cover on requirements deemed untenable or unnecessary based upon time and resources available.
This may brief well, but I wondered to myself if this would work. I never did such a thing as a company commander. As a battalion commander, none of my company commanders had done such a thing. As a rear detachment brigade commander, none of my battalion commanders had come forward in such a fashion. Every unit I’ve been a part of reported ‘all complete’ when it was just never feasible to have completed but a fraction of the required tasks.
In assessing this senior leader’s remarks, I determined that most company commanders probably don’t have time for that level of assessment. Company commanders exist on the front lines of leadership, literally where the rubber meets the road. To take time to make a comparable assessment is not feasible for most. Perhaps it should have been the higher headquarters that made this type of assessment. Besides, most things seemed like a priority. How would you prioritize when your headquarters deemed numerous competing demands as priorities?
I had a company commander sleeping at the CQ desk for several nights in a row keeping watch over an imminently suicidal soldier. I had a company commander spend several sequential days dealing with a love triangle in the motor pool. I had a company commander make so many trips to the local mental health facility where we sent struggling soldiers that he became known by name.
These are all good things in that commanders get paid to take care of soldiers and concern themselves with their well-being. On the other hand, we also pay commanders to accomplish the mission, to close with and destroy the enemy, to fight and win our nation’s wars, and every hour, every day, every week spent dealing with the litany of soldier issues is time NOT spent preparing their units for the rigors of combat. Here is the issue.
The Army standard is clearly a godly standard, whether intentional or not, though I believe it to be intentional. The Army, as it reflects the composition of our society writ large, is clearly and increasingly a godless organization. The primary challenge facing leaders in the modern Army of the United States is this,
motivating godly behavior from the godless, apart from God.
Herein lies the crux of the leadership challenge with which the Army wrestles. Allow me to explain. The challenge is, motivating godly behavior (compliance with UCMJ and internalization of the Army Values and Warrior Ethos) from the godless (majority of soldiers), apart from God (in an environment hostile to the intentional proliferation of the Gospel).
My previous commander, one of the greatest combat leaders I’ve ever had the privilege of serving under, remains convinced that the United States is poised for a fall and that we will lose our next war. I am not sure if I concur. However, virtually every issue the leaders of our Army grapple with stems from the impossibility of the above paradigm. One can only coax a certain measure of godliness from the godless. Failure is inevitable in this regard.
Frankly, the issue is sin running in opposition to values and codes which generates all manner of personal affliction in the lives of soldiers.
Sin necessitates mandatory training in an attempt to handle the issue from a secular standing.
The resonate sin in our force, not under the conviction of the Holy Spirit or increasingly not even under the common grace of the proliferation of the Gospel, consumes our force and its leaders, diverting them from the most important of tasks—preparing our forces to confront the evil of this world.
We must come to terms with this while we can. We don’t have much time.
Author - Founder
Soldier, Pastor, Author – Bradford stays busy, with his wife Ami, raising their 9 children, serving the nation, pastoring, preaching, and writing books (#3 is due out October ’17).
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