I flew the A-10 Thunderbolt II (known as “the Warthog”) in the first Gulf War, and on each mission I had to trust my wingman with my life. That is not something that most people experience on a day-to-day basis, but the chance of something bad happening to either of us depended upon whether we worked as a team and looked out for each other.
The essence of that relationship is called esprit de corps – a commitment to each other and our goals based upon character.
These are the things our military should embrace. But as we approach Veterans Day, I see a disturbing trend emerging that limits our military’s ability to accomplish its mission. I am not referring to the cutbacks in military spending that have resulted in reductions in our personnel and equipment to levels we have not seen since World War I. Our military leadership has done wonders doing more with less.
I’m referring to the recent political movement to divide our society into more and more categories and sub-groups by sex or religion, the impact of which is destroying our military’s effectiveness and morale. Social engineering should never be a part of military planning. It is always a recipe for disaster.
Social engineering should never be a part of military planning. It is always a recipe for disaster.
The success of any mission depends on putting the best possible people in position to accomplish the mission. If the goal is to achieve a political outcome, hit a desired quota or erase millennia of tradition and beliefs that have unified our military, the mission will not be achieved and worse, honorable soldiers may die.
Our politicians need to have the character to push back against activists whose mission isn’t to secure freedom but to promote political agendas.
Aside from professional sports, the military provides the best example of what a meritocracy should be. Its effectiveness is based upon setting a strategic goal or directive, developing the tactics to accomplish the mission and carrying it out successfully. Nothing more, nothing less. That requires maintaining not only a high standard of mental and physical excellence but also demanding a high level of character from every individual serving in our military, especially our leaders.
Character is one of the building blocks of our military. As a former member of the Air Force, I took to heart its core values: integrity first, service before self, and excellence in all we do. That was our identity as fighter pilots.
I served with men and women of all faiths, all demographics and all races and I know that the values instilled in us by our training were the “why” that we needed to willingly put ourselves into harm’s way, knowing that it might one day cost us our lives. As philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche said: “He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how.”
The character that we strove to exemplify was functional as well as moral. Functional character means actions that display a positive attitude, grit/determination, perseverance and resilience. Moral character includes the personal qualities of courage, humility, honesty, integrity, selflessness and self-discipline.
American military veterans and ordinary citizens should demand that our elected officials stop these needless social policies with our military. Nobel laureate Milton Friedman said it best: “One of the greatest mistakes is to judge policies and programs by their intentions rather than their results.”
To continue to be the best fighting force in the world, our military needs to focus on the one thing that can unify it. And that is its character.
Chad Hennings, a former fighter pilot in the Persian Gulf and three-time Super Bowl champion with the Dallas Cowboys, is the co-author with Jon Finkel of “Forces of Character: Conversations about Building a Life of Impact.”