NEWS | Aug. 1, 2016

The Warrior Ethos…defining our Profession of Arms

By Col. Rob Lyman, commander Joint Base Charleston

Regardless of my assigned base or unit, throughout my military career I've heard people say things like, "This isn't the real Air Force," or "That warrior ethos doesn't really apply here."  We sometimes speak of "the warfighter" as if that were someone else.  We fail to recognize it is us. 

The Warrior Ethos that defines us is at the heart of our calling: the Profession of Arms.  Too often we identify with a particular vocational specialty (flying, cyber operations, acquisitions, logistics...) and with daily, perhaps mundane tasks rather than the greater aspect of our calling.  So what does "the Warrior Ethos" really mean?

Merriam-Webster's defines a few relevant words. 
Warrior:  one engaged or experienced in warfare; broadly: a person engaged in some struggle or conflict
Ethos:  the distinguishing character, sentiment, moral nature, or guiding beliefs of a person, group, or institution
Profession:  a calling requiring specialized knowledge and often long and intensive academic preparation

While each uniformed service has a rich heritage and distinct culture, derived from the service legacy and the domains in which we operate, all share an ethos of selfless service and common experience as members of the profession of arms.  The Warrior Ethos applies to all of us.

Where is our Warrior Ethos expressed?  It is resident in our mottos:  "These things we do that others may live" (USAF Pararescue), "De Oppresso Liber" (To Free the Oppressed - US Army Special Forces), "This We'll Defend" (US Army), "Semper Fidelis" (Always Faithful - US Marine Corps), "Semper Paratus" (Always Prepared - US Coast Guard), "Non sibi sed patriae" (Not for self but for country - Unofficial US Navy), "Semper Fortis" (Always Strong/Courageous - Unofficial US Navy), "I am an American, fighting in the forces which guard my country..." (The Code of Conduct), "Famulus Omnis" (Serving All - Joint Base Charleston)... 

It has been resident in creeds throughout the history of the profession of arms, which are the ancestors of our modern creeds:  "With your shield or on it" in ancient Sparta, the Bushido code ("The Way of the Warrior") in ancient Japan, the shout of "Integritas" by a Roman Legionnaire as they thumped their breastplate, the system of chivalry in medieval knights...

For the American Warrior, it is embodied in our modern creeds.  "Tradition of honor," "Legacy of valor," "represent the fighting spirit," "Honor, Courage and Commitment," "My nation's sword and shield...," "I am disciplined, physically and mentally tough, trained and proficient in my warrior tasks and drills,"...

It is personified in our stories, myths and legends - the legacies of our forebears.  Horatius at the bridge, the Spartans at Thermopylae, the Continental Army at Valley Forge, the 101st at Bastogne, the Doolittle Raiders, the Battle of Leyte Gulf, U.S. forces at Robert's Ridge and the Korangal Valley and countless others.  These stories are not focused on a vocation or particular technology but on the profession of arms, our shared values and code.

How do we bring our ethos to life?  We sharpen our specialized knowledge and intensive academic preparation while at home station.  That involves training in our specialties but must also include fieldcraft skills like physical fitness, basic marksmanship, self-defense and tactical first aid.  We have to stay sharp in these deployment skills and not rely solely on "just in time" refreshers to become proficient warfighters.  We must stay engaged and experienced in warfare through training, exercises and deployments.  Putting our skills to use in exercises keeps us sharp and proficient, so we are ready when called upon to use them operationally.  We must also continue to practice our distinguishing character every day - on and off duty - living our core values and the virtues that demonstrate them.  Our Joint Base leadership team witnesses your character in action regularly, and we routinely hear stories of your selflessness from our community partners.

There are those that may argue our ethos applies solely to our uniformed service members.  While not practitioners of the profession of arms, the civilians in our units serve the nation as all civil servants do but as national security professionals they play a special role.  They are an integral part of our military institutions and, thus, a significant component of our security mission.  The warrior ethos is a distinguishing characteristic of our military institutions.  Wearing a uniform is not necessarily a prerequisite to subscribe to that ethos.

Gallantry on the battlefield, the ultimate expression of the warrior ethos, is most celebrated.  However, more regularly, our moral courage is tested in daily interactions - the self-discipline to maintain a difficult standard, pushing ourselves in fitness, cultivating mental preparation through training and education, ethical decision making and many more.  Importantly, subscribers to our warrior ethos show moral courage in attacking behaviors not consistent with our ethic - like all the elements that lead to sexual assault, not accepting drug use or other illegal or self-destructive practices or intervening in any situation that devalues an individual.  These are the daily examples of our distinguishing character.

As evidenced in numerous studies and polls, the nation expects more of us, her warriors and professional servants, than the average citizen.  Our actions must reinforce public trust and belief in our judgment and character.  Those daily actions - your daily actions - are what ultimately continue to bring credit on our military institutions.