Hertling: Army has a discipline problem – Army News | News from Afghanistan & Iraq – Army Times

Soldier discipline has deteriorated to the point where it risks becoming “cancerous,” a senior Army general said Wednesday.

Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling told a group of reporters over breakfast that only a small percentage of soldiers lack proper discipline, but he stressed his concern that it be fixed, now that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are winding down and more troops are returning to their home bases.

“In some cases there are discipline problems that we have not paid as much attention to as we should,” he said, adding, “If you allow that to go unnoticed, it becomes cancerous.”

via Hertling: Army has a discipline problem – Army News | News from Afghanistan & Iraq – Army Times.

I’d guess this is largely a result of two pressures. First, the rapid rates of promotion for junior enlisted to the NCO ranks (and NCOs are the heart and soul of soldier discipline) and to a lesser extent, rapid officer promotions.

Secondly, unit commanders are greatly concerned with maintaining unit strength, and are loathe to discharge soldiers that in my day would have been shown the door long ago.

I haven’t been around troop units recently enough to notice the small indicators of discipline. Do soldiers stand at parade rest when addressing NCOs? Do NCOs know where their troops are every minute of every workday? Are on the spot corrections being made?

So far, the Army has done a magnificent job of not losing the core of its NCOs in the mid-grades, in spite of repeated deployment cycles. But it needs to act strongly and swiftly to nip in the bud any trend toward a loss of discipline.

5 thoughts on “Hertling: Army has a discipline problem – Army News | News from Afghanistan & Iraq – Army Times”

  1. Not that I believe there is ANY correlation between now and the mid 1970’s, but during my first enlistment (1987 – 1991) i heard quite a few stories from Staff Sergeants and above who were Privates, PFC’s Lance Corporals, Corporals and Sergeants during the 1970’s. Basically, they said morale and discipline, both on a personal and unit basis were at times horrible. It took STRONG action by NCO’s and Staff NCO’s, with the backing of unit commanders, to correct the situation.
    It all boils down to leaders actually leading and being allowed to make the right decisions and then implementing those decisions in a timely and appropriate manner.

  2. I haven’t been around troops in seven years, but seven years ago, soldiers did not tormally stand at parade rest unless the 1st Sgt or CSM was chewing them out. NCOs did not always know where their subordinates were, and only gave on-the-spot corrections when directed to. The officers were worse, and many Warrants were not experts in their field.

    It is not the Army I knew.

  3. I concur with the rapid promotion rate of NCOs as a cause. I would add a couple other factors, too. The mindset that we should let Soldiers have their space in the barracks has led to a hands-off mentality. The push to reduce things like “smoking” as a form of disciplinary action means that some Soldiers have little to fear except “counseling” (Ooooohh). Being deployed for so long creates a mindset that standing at parade rest, etc, are garrison things. Lastly, and of the greatest impact, is the societal change, which is two-fold. Young kids don’t start with a base of discipline, and then either can’t abide it, or instill it, in the military. And, what was once tolerated/routine, now is uncommon, and not tolerated, both within the ranks, and by media/society at large. I remember my PSG beating people and no one (chain of command or Soldiers) batting an eye.


  4. At last we don’t have the beer machines in the barracks like we did in the 1970s which helped make matters worse. Really sucked to be an SDO in an infantry battalion back then!

    1. My brother tells me of an SDO being locked in a wall-locker and rolled down the stairwell while he was at Fort Ord in the mid 80s. Maybe apocryphal, maybe not.
      On the other hand, sometimes drunk in the barracks is better than drunk and downtown. Two of my former soldiers are down the street from me in the US Disciplinary Barracks here on Fort Leavenworth for murder. If they’d drank in the barracks instead of downtown that night, they’d be free and another Soldier would still be alive. Or maybe not.

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