I enjoyed today’s activities more than anything we’ve done thus far at Fort Leavenworth.
Fort Leavenworth is the home of the Army’s Command and General Staff College, which trains Army majors for higher command. More than 1,000 majors, including some from other services and some from other countries, attend a 10-month course teaching them advanced leadership. They learn everything from military history to geopolitics. If you didn’t look at the signs, you’d never know you were on an Army base. It looks more like a college campus than a military garrison.
Today, we embedded with students at the college. I sat in on a class including an Oklahoman, Maj. Brian Sole, of Lawton. Sole and a dozen other majors were discussing ethics. They covered different ethical models, including theories by such thinkers as Immanual Kant. They watched clips from HBO’s John Adams miniseries, identifying the ethical models used in several scenes in which Adams, an attorney, contemplates whether to defend the British soldiers involved in the Boston Massacre.
The instructor was Douglas Stephenson, a professor of leadership who served 28 years as an Army officer. Stephenson gave the students an ethical case study from his own experience as a new battalion commander. On Stephenson’s first day as commander, a female private came into his office and reported that her sergeant wouldn’t keep his hands off her. After a thorough investigation, the case came down to he-said, she-said. No one could cooroborate the sworn statements of either party. Stephenson’s military lawyer, a judge advocate general, recommended doing nothing. But Stephenson couldn’t live with doing nothing.
The class discussed options. Moving either the private or her sergeant seemed a consensus, but moving either of them could cause problems. On the one hand, you don’t want the appearance that you are punsihing a female soldier for coming forward with a harassment complaint. On the other, you don’t want sergeants thinking they can be punished on a mere accusation with no proof of guilt.
Another option the class identified included refresher courses on harassment for the entire battalion. Stephenson’s ultimate course of action was inventive and won approval from most of the class. He used Article 15 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, which allows commanders to discipline soldiers for minor offenses without going through a judicial process. Soldiers disciplined under Article 15 can request a court martial if they want to challenge the commander’s decision. Stephenson called both the private and her sergeant into his office and told them that based on their sworn statements, one of them was lying. He had disciplinary papers drawn up for both of them. He asked the private if she would take a polygraph, and she agreed. The sergeant sought legal council and was advised not to take the polygraph. He agreed anyway, after Stephenson told him that a polygraph that confirmed the private’s story would result in discipline. The polygraphs both showed the private was telling the truth. She wasn’t disciplined. Although the polygraphs were not admissiable for legal proceedings, the sergeant was kicked out of the unit, and a reprimand from Stephenson was put on his permanent record.
The action won Stephenson the trust of his female enlisted soldiers and sent an immediate message that sexual harassment would not be tolerated under his command. He took a risk. If the sergeant refused to take the polygraph and challenged his punishment, Stephenson might have had a hard time justifying his decision with no evidence.
This scenario illustrated many of the situations the majors might encounter in their military careers. Ethical decisions are easy to make when the issue is black and white. Shades of gray are where the problems arise, and senior leaders need to know how to think through cases where there may not be a clear cut right or wrong decision. It was nice to see the future senior leaders of our military having an honest, open discussion about the issues.
Special thanks to the members of the class who let me sit and observe and who eagerly answered all my questions.
- Staff Writer Bryan Dean