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By Captain George C. SoIIey, U. S. Marine Corps
are the appointment itself and its
As a newly commissioned officer, I was fortunate to read several works concerning leadership and other military matters that greatly aided me in discovering my new role as an officer—in terms of both my relationships with seniors and subordinates and my place as an inheritor of two centuries of tradition. Since that time, I have occasionally returned to and reread these sources, sometimes to seek a different perspective than my job then allowed, sometimes to come to grips with the decision of a respected friend and fellow officer to leave the service. These reviews have reminded me of the traditions of my service, lifted me out of the daily routine, strengthened my conviction that mine is an honorable service, thereby confirming my sense of personal and professional worth, and made me keenly aware of the debt owed to those officers and men who went before me.
Recently, though. I found that I had overlooked something in these occasional reflections. What 1 had not reviewed, and in fact gave insufficient thought to at the time, was the meaning of my commission as an officer. So 1 looked closely at my commission, particularly at the words used in granting an officer his lawful authority and even more particularly at those words having to do with the “special trust and confidence” placed in the officer corps. Words led to ideas, ideas to concepts, and concepts to standards of conduct. I found that the language of the commission is not mere courtesy and convention. It sets standards of performance that are absolute. strict, and demanding: the United States grants the commission with the full expectation that officers have certain high qualities, and the acceptance of that commission imposes a profound obligation on each officer—without regard to how painful, dangerous, or difficult it might be to fulfill.
In brief, the commission is the authority by which each officer performs his duties.* It does not merely say that someone is now an ensign or second lieutenant, as a driver’s license gives authority to operate a motor vehicle, but contains other important infor-
•I use the masculine gender merely for simplicity. I mean, of course, both men and women officers.
mation in important language- Granted specifically by the President of the United States, this authority has four short paragraphs: the first appoints the officer to his rank, with a specific date, and gives reasons for that appointment; the second provides instructions to that officer and to his juniors; the third defines the duration of the commission; the fourth gives the date and place the commission was issued. That the commission is granted by the President is important, and the language further indicates how important that fact is. For a regular officer, the President writes that “I do. by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, appoint him . . . and all officers are directed “to observe and follow such orders and directions, from time to time, as may be given by me, or the future President of the United States In other words, the President acts partly as commander in chief the armed forces and partly as the elected representative of the people of the United States, advised by other elected representatives of the nation, with the clear implication that powers and actions of the President are g°v' erned by the people of the country- Thus, although written in the words of the President and legally granted by him, the commission and all its instructions, provisions, and recognl' tion come from the people of our nation.
The instructions given by the commission are brief and general in n3' ture: each of us is directed to carry out his duties “carefully and dim gently” and, as mentioned, to foll°vV the orders of the President and "othe Superior Officers.” The provision
ration, which is “to continue in f°rC during the pleasure of the Preside1 of the United States of Amenc . . . These aspects of the commjs sion are straightforward and easi > comprehended; simply put. Amcn^ expects each of us to do his duty.1 do it well, and to do it when and whe^ the nation wills. The recognition
contained in the phrase “rep1 special trust and confidence in patriotism, valor, fidelity, and ah' ^ ties” of the officer appointed. The words contain much food for thoug.^ and must be examined thoroughly order to appreciate fully the meanl -
. .we have a debt to the past, present, and future; to the officers whose past patriotism, valor, fidelity, and abilities enable us freely to make our choices; to the people of the United States whose present trust and confidence are placed in us; and to those men and women who will follow us, to leave them a service and nation as strong as that we inherited.”
of the commission.
The President and people of the United States do not give such instructions to nor require such obedience from everyone, but only those 'n whom they repose “special trust and confidence.” Trust is variously defined as belief in and reliance on some quality or attribute of a person or thing, the condition of being entrusted with something, and the obligation or responsibility imposed on one in whom confidence is placed or authority is vested, or who has given an undertaking of fidelity. Confidence ■s a belief in the reliability of a person °r thing and an assurance arising from reliance on something. Trust, then, ■rnplies instinctive and unquestioning belief in and reliance upon something °r someone, and confidence implies conscious trust because of good rea- s°ns, definite evidence, or relevant e*perience. In sum, the nation believes that each officer has responsible and reliable qualities and believes this consciously and without reservation, '’used on the reasonable evidence of exPerience. The nation also entrusts each officer with some things that create in him some sort of obligation. Trust and confidence, in fact, are spe- c,ai implying that they are greater *han those given to other citizens: fur- !"er, they are not merely given once, but reposed—placed for an indefinite Perjod. But what are the qualities the Ration expects of us as officers? What ls entrusted to us? And what type of °bligation do we incur?
The nation reposes “special trust a°d confidence” in certain qualities °I'ts officer corps, specifically “in the Patriotism, valor, fidelity, and abili- ,les” of each officer. These qualities simple enough: we all have a a,gh regard for our country, and we n°Pe we have courage, loyalty, and ^certain degree of competence. But aese qualities are not as simple as hey seem.
Patriotism means having the charter of a patriot and is the devoted °Ve. support, and defense of one’s °Untry; a patriot is one who disin- erestedly or self-sacrificingly exerts 'uiself to promote the well being of ls country and who maintains and ^fends his country’s freedom or 8hts. The key concepts here are de- ated love, disinterest, and self-sac- i^e. Love itself means a degree of e|nessness, and devotion implies an Ven greater willingness to place the object of that love above one’s self. To be disinterested in a situation is to forego any personal gain, and to sacrifice oneself means to give up something of personal value. Thus, the nation expects that we will be selfless in our love of country, and that we will be willing to give up other possible interests and opportunities which may conflict with the requirements of patriotism.
Valor is more than courage or the mastery of fear. It is the quality of mind that enables a person to face danger with boldness or firmness. Courage, bravery, and valor are related, each being qualities of spirit and conduct: courage permits one to face extreme dangers and difficulties; bravery implies true courage together with daring and boldness; valor implies continuous, active bravery in the face of personal danger—and a noble and lofty quality of courage. Whether or not one has valor is difficult to determine, for no one knows truly the quality of his courage until it is severely tested. But the point is this: the President and nation expect and rely on each and every officer not only to have courage, but to have valor.
Fidelity means the quality of being faithful and requires the strict and loyal observance of promises and duties: the word implies unwavering devotion and allegiance to a person or principle. It also means being conscientious and thorough in the fulfillment of an obligation imposed by a trust, the obligation of a promise or engagement. If all this appears somewhat complicated as a definition, it does reveal certain insights into the nature of fidelity. Fidelity in an officer is a constant and never-changing loyalty and allegiance to the principles and people of the United States, and the willing fulfillment of the obligations imposed on him by virtue of his oath of allegiance and his appointment as an officer. The nation expects that we have unwavering and continuing loyalty, and it imposes a strict obligation on us because of that loyalty.
Ability is the suitableness, fitness, or aptitude to do or act physically, mentally, and morally; it is competence in an activity or occupation because of one’s skill, capacity, means, or some other qualification. On the one hand, we are expected already to possess the necessary attributes —physical strength and stamina, intelligence, and character—to perform our duties. On the other hand, we are expected to make continued good use of those attributes to maintain proficiency and competence in our profession.
These, then, are the qualities that the nation trusts that we have as officers. But we are also entrusted with something, and that something is implied in the qualities themselves. Patriotism requires us to defend our country’s freedoms and rights, and fidelity requires that we be faithful to our promise and engagement to “uphold and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies.” Quite simply, we are entrusted with the continued survival of the United States.
If we recognize and understand the depth and importance of the qualities required of an officer, and if we fully appreciate the vital nature of our entrusted mission, then we cannot help but feel an increased sense of obligation, a more powerful sense of duty. But we need to know more about this duty. To whom are we obligated? And, more important, what are the characteristics and effects of the obligation?
We are obligated to the nation. Our patriotism and fidelity require it of us, and the language of the commission makes it clear that our trust and confidence come ultimately from the people of the United States. The commission also gives us an obligation to
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our service and to the “other Superior Officers” we are instructed to obey. Finally, we are obligated to ourselves to ensure that we maintain the qualities ascribed to us which are necessary for our profession.
The characteristics and effects of our obligation are severe. We have a greater commitment than we perhaps fully realize when we first set out to become officers. We must be willing to undergo hardships in order to fulfill our obligation, partly because hardship is an inherent and necessary part of the type of responsibility to which we are bound, and partly because only through self-sacrifice and hard work can we fully attain the qualities of patriotism, valor, fidelity, and ability- We must place our obligation before any self-interest. And that obligation is not temporary, but imposes a duty, a lifelong requirement to place the needs of the nation and of the service above the desires of ourselves. No one in the United States is forced to accept a commission. Each of us has done so freely.
When our obligations are fully recognized and accepted, our actions and decisions must be made with a deep regard for duty. Decisions to resign, for example, may often be made out of self-interest, with duty considered less important than the desire for more money, a dislike of hardship and separation, or a dissatisfaction with one’s present station. To place self-interest above obligation is inacceptable.
It is not mere rhetoric to say that we have a debt to the past, present- and future: to the officers whose pas* patriotism, valor, fidelity, and abilities enable us freely to make our choices; to the people of the United States whose present trust and confidence are placed in us; and to those men and women who will follow us, to leave them a service and nation as strong as that we inherited. The special trust and confidence placed in the military officer require a responsibility much deeper in commitment and wider i° scope than most of us perhaps realize- The recognition of this responsibility cannot help but increase our sense o» obligation to our service and our nation. and the satisfaction that comes from expending great effort in fulfil*' ing such an obligation will make us better leaders, more satisfied with out profession, and, ultimately, strongcf as an armed force.