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NEWS | July 11, 2008

'Disipline is the soul of an Army'

By Col. Polly Kenny 316th Wing Staff Judge Advocate

Then-Colonel George Washington, Commander-in-Chief of Virginia Forces, said "Discipline is the soul of an Army." This piece of wisdom is as true today as it was in 1757. In order to establish discipline, commanders and leaders must cultivate an environment of respect so that their subordinates have confidence in them. The guidance for enforcement of disciplinary breaches is the Uniform Code of Military Justice, which was originally enacted in 1950 and became effective in 1951. The UCMJ gives authority to commanders to enforce its provisions. 

As a Judge Advocate in the United States Air Force for 20 plus years, I have dealt with hundreds of cases of lapses in discipline. My role is to advise commanders on the UCMJ when those lapses occur. 

The UCMJ is an extremely unique code of criminal law in two distinct
ways: First, it applies to military members in uniform no matter where we are and no matter what we do. Most U.S. criminal laws apply only in a specific jurisdiction -- for example, if a civilian commits a murder in Maryland, that civilian can only be prosecuted in the state of Maryland. So why do we have such a unique code of justice? The answer is simple ... discipline. In order for commanders at the lowest level to be able to take swift, just action against a military member who has deviated from expectations, the highly-portable UCMJ is the answer. Second, the UCMJ sets out crimes that are "uniquely military offenses." These strike at the core of discipline ... some examples are failure to obey an order, absence without leave, and insubordinate conduct. These are simply offenses the civilian sector of America has no interest in. So why do we care about these offenses? Again, a simple answer ... discipline. 

These principles can be examined in a case study. Assume a technical sergeant is deployed to Afghanistan. He is scheduled to go on patrol with his team on a certain date. On that date, he tells his captain he does not want to go on patrol again. The captain orders him to depart with his team for patrol. In front of the team, the technical sergeant states: "I am not going to do it captain." The commander feels the need to address this failure to obey an order for several reasons ... 

especially since the failure to obey was done in front of the subordinates. Because the UCMJ makes failure to obey an order a crime and because the UCMJ applies in Afghanistan, the commander can take disciplinary action quickly. Without that capacity, discipline would suffer. Further, the technical sergeant has attempted to undermine the authority of the captain ... to prevent further problems, this breach of discipline must be addressed. 

Discipline permeates all we do. When we are all called to do a menial yet critical duty such as the FOD walk after working 72 hours at the annual Joint Service Open House, do we hear grumbling about picking up trash? No. No such duty is below a disciplined force. As Airmen, Soldiers, Sailors, and Marines, we exhibit discipline in our day-to-day duties at home station and in the deployed environment. As such, we are always on display. We are always recruiting for our service. What better way to do that than to stand proud and act with discipline in our interactions with society. Where discipline exists our Air Force core values exist ... integrity, service before self, and excellence in all we do!