Loyalty, duty, respect, selfless-service, honor, integrity and personal courage. I remember my reaction when I was at Basic Combat Training (BCT) and the Drill Sergeants started talking about these values; the army values.
I was taken aback when I heard that in addition to learning how to fire, maintain and perform function checks on an M16, an M249, an M240B and learning how to don MOPP gear including the M40 gas mask and learning how to function as a member of a fire team, and learning proper customs and courtesies and drill and ceremony and buddy team movements that we were also going to learn about values. They are an impressive collection of values. One would be hard pressed to find another value worthy of inclusion on this list of Army values, save faith, hope and love.
I remember thinking of the monumental task that lay before the United States Army (USA) in teaching these values. Teaching how to field strip an M16 is relatively easy when compared to teaching personal courage. With an M16 you can step-by-step pop the the pins, separate the upper and lower recievers, take out the charging handle, the bolt assembly, the buffer spring, etc. You can physically show people how to utilize the tools to clean the dirt and carbon build-up on the weapon and you can show them how to reassemble the weapon. You can show them how to clear a jam--slap, pull, observe, release, tap, squeeze--drop a clip, reload a magazine and then you can show them how to effectively use the weapon to engage targets. You can teach sight picture, center of mass, breathing techniques, the fundamental rules of handling a weapon--treat every weapon as if it were loaded, never let the muzzle cover something you are not willing to destroy, keep your finger off the trigger until your sights are on the target, be aware of your target, what is in front of and behind. These are solid truths almost as certain as 2+2=4
But, how do you teach honor?
You can't field strip honor. You can't take someone through every situation they will face in any given day and say this is what honor would do. However, the USA does try to teach honor. They provided cards and books with cumbersome definitions and tasked us with looking for instances of the values being acted out by our "battle buddies". It was a frustrating task because it wasn't quite hitting the mark.
It is amazingly commendable for the USA to see the importance of these values. They are important. They are, quite frankly, the best lessons that can be learned at BCT, they are timeless lessons that transcend the battlefield and carry over to all aspects of life. The Army Values establishes the plumb line from which a person can measure themselves to determine what kind of a human being they are. Am I loyal, do I have duty, honor, integrity? Do I guarantee respect to the people that I meet? And do I have the personal courage to serve others selflessly? My God, how can someone do all those things and how could the USA teach those lessons?
One thing the USA does is they tell and share stories about men and women who have embodied these values. They tell the stories of simple men and women who have, under great peril to their own lives, embodied these army values. They tell stories of men valiantly jumping on grenades to save the lives of their brothers. They tell stories of men taking enemy positions by themselves under withering small arms fire. They tell stories of snipers rapelling into hell to secure a pilot whose Black Hawk was shot down. They faced impossible odds and knew they would be overrun, that their blood would spill but served selflessly, loyally, dutifully, courageously and honorably.
In these stories you get a glimpse, a sense of what it means to be a soldier in the USA. I know that not all soldiers take these precious lessons from BCT. The media makes damn sure that everyone is aware of the failures of the USA. I know that many that I went through BCT were not much more than kids and their grasp of the gravity of the profession they were entering and their commitment that they had made may have been lost to them. They never lived on their own and were new to the world. Some never had a bank account, a beer (legally), a vote in a presidential election, a budget, a mortage payment; some didn't have Fathers or Mothers to teach them these values. And here is the USA adopting them and giving them a set of brothers--sometimes sisters--a purpose and a guideline for life. The USA then tries its damndest to get people in leadership positions to model these traits and show the sons and daughters of America what it means to be a soldier. What it means to be a man, a woman.
I am glad of this decision that I have made and pray to God each day that I can live up to these values and do my part to show others what it means to be a soldier in the USA. It truly is an honor.