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News > Taking care of people: order, discipline vital for military effectiveness
Taking care of people: order, discipline vital for military effectiveness

Posted 9/29/2008   Updated 9/29/2008 Email story   Print story


by Lt. Col. Michael Hoverston
21st Space Wing staff judge advocate

9/29/2008 - PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo.  -- Take care of your people! This bit of advice is often given to new leaders. For the military leader, taking care of people includes the maintenance of good order and discipline. Good order and discipline is vital to an effective military force -- an undisciplined military force is a losing military force. 

Maintaining discipline sometimes calls for a supervisor or commander to intercede and advocate for the best interests of their Airman. Other times, maintaining discipline includes the imposition of administrative censures or even non-judicial or judicial punishment. 

When criminal allegations arise, military members, supervisors and commanders can rest assured that the military justice system will produce a just and fair result. If you don't believe me, I encourage you to take a closer look at the military justice system. I challenge you to show me a criminal justice system that does more to protect the rights of an individual suspect or accused. The protections afforded a military suspect or accused go far beyond those required by our Constitution or those afforded by most civilian jurisdictions. Sit through a court-martial and observe the great lengths to which the military justice system goes in order to ensure a fair hearing. Then watch a case wind its way through a civilian criminal justice system. The stark contrast is certain to boost your confidence in the military system. 

When criminal allegations arise, military members, supervisors and commanders need to cooperate fully with those charged with investigating the allegations. Air Force investigators are motivated to discover the truth behind an allegation, and they do a great job of it. They're not looking to simply uncover incriminating evidence against an individual; rather, they are looking to discover the truth. Often, the truth includes exonerating one or more suspects. Military investigators scrupulously stay within the boundaries of Constitutional protections and obtain legal advice throughout the investigation process. 

When an individual suspected of an offense needs legal advice, he or she should seek out, or be directed to, the area defense counsel, or ADC. No one but defense counsel can legitimately issue unbiased, independent advice to an Airman suspected of wrongdoing. The sole job of the Air Force ADC is to advocate for the benefit of his or her client. Only the best of the best are assigned as ADCs and they do a superb job of defending their clients. No one has the education, experience, independence and responsibility for representing an accused in our system other than a properly designated defense counsel. 

When an investigation is complete and the issue turns to possible censure or punishment, many factors come into play. One of the most important factors is rehabilitation. Ultimately, our goal is to teach our straying Airmen an important lesson and get them back on the path of the straight and narrow.
However, rehabilitation is not the only goal; there is also deterrence. We want to send a message to potential imitators that certain types of conduct will not be tolerated. Laws and standards only have meaning if there are consequences for those who choose to violate them. 

Finally, there is the issue of retribution--the theory that lawbreakers morally deserve punishment. Consciously violating criminal laws means going beyond imprudent and unethical behavior, it means breaking the social contract. Society counts on its citizens to stay within the clear boundaries of the criminal law. This is even more so in a military society. Don't we owe something to those who have withstood peer pressure and not smoked marijuana...who make it to work every day on time...who control their sexual appetites? Military justice means justice for everyone, not just the wrongdoer. 

It is only when we consider the military force as a whole in maintaining good order and discipline that we are truly taking care of our people. George Washington said "discipline is the soul of an army." How well we use our tools of good order and discipline may well determine how well we use our tools of war. 

(Editor's Note: This article is one of several highlighting the Air Force Space Command Year of Leadership and its focus on discipline)

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