Ethics slips involving Navy SEALs, Army Green Berets stem from combat culture, review finds

A new in-depth military report has concluded combat culture has placed too much importance on training good soldiers rather than developing good leaders.

The Associated Press reported that episodic misconduct and ethical lapses among U.S. special operations forces, such as the Navy SEALs and Army Green Berets, have come from two decades of nearly continuous combat, leaving “potential cracks” in the foundation of the forces, the review released Tuesday said.

The review concluded that while there is no “systemic ethics problem,” the sustained war tours since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and limited time for force development have set the conditions at times for unacceptable conduct. It acknowledged that previous internal assessments have come to similar conclusions, yet the problems persist.

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“We did find that certain aspects of our culture have, at times, set conditions favorable for inappropriate behavior,” Army Gen. Richard Clarke, commander of U.S. Special Operations Command, told reporters at the Pentagon. “We have a ‘can do’ culture with a bias toward action.”

This is “part of what makes us great,” he said, but sometimes it goes too far.

The report said that, over time, deployment to areas that promise combat has come to be valued “above all other things.” Those who experience combat “are held as almost an infallible standard bearer” for others to emulate — even if that combat experience is marred by unprofessional acts.

“Nearly 20 years of continuous conflict have imbalanced that culture to favor force employment and mission accomplishment over the routine activities that ensure leadership, accountability and discipline,” Clarke said Tuesday. “This is a problem, and our review team recommended more than a dozen ways to address it. Most importantly, we need to improve our leader development programs and improve accountability in our training and management processes.”

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The review left no doubt that the force has suffered from lapses in leadership and accountability. It said this evolved from an imbalance between the demands to deploy to war zones and the need to properly develop troops. The result was a “vicious cycle” that normalized a culture in which leadership development was lacking.

“The review team uncovered not only potential cracks in the SOF (special operations forces) foundations at the individual and team level, but also through the chain of command, specifically in the core tenets of leadership, discipline and accountability,” the report said.

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The special operations forces must restore emphasis on developing leaders “with the required balance of character and competence,” it added.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.