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Where do you wear your values?

J. D. Pendry

"Things are only worth what you make them worth." -Moliere

I believe it is a great idea to put the Army's core values on a plastic dog tag and require us to wear them around our necks. It's a great reminder to us of who and what we are. But more importantly it's a reminder to soldiers of what to look for in their leaders. Maybe that's what has so many leaders irate enough to write letters and articles about how offensive it is when they are reminded of the Army's values.

No one ever learned values by being given a card, tag or anything else with a list of them on it. But I fear too many of us are getting so wrapped up in this thought that we've lost track of what's important. Where do values come from? As a child, did your parents make a list of things to tell you how to conduct your life? Treat others? Treat yourself? Did they hang the list around your neck? No, they didn't. Instead, they modeled for you how you would live as an adult. Notice I said model for you how you would live not should live. That modeling by your parents and other influential adults provided you with your values, not a list hanging around your neck. The same is true for soldiers. Soldiers don't and will not learn values by wearing them on a tag around their neck. They learn the values modeled by their leaders and more specifically their NCO leaders. Whether those values compliment the Army's core values or something else does not matter. What matters is that the values modeled for soldiers are the values learned by soldiers. That's a sobering thought, and it should be. So maybe those little tags and cards do serve a valuable purpose as constant reminders of what we must model for our soldiers - and now the soldiers know it.

To get at the crux of the issue as they say, we only have to look to one value. That's the Army's core value of Honor. Honor as a value means that we live within a prescribed code. In our case it means that Loyalty, Duty, Respect, Selfless Service, Honor, Integrity, and Personal Courage are significantly more than a list of words. Leaders who live within the Army's code of Honor model those values. They model them uncompromisingly and insist that other soldiers and leaders do the same.

What I find odd lately is the rash of noncommissioned officers claiming to be offended by being given a values card and tag. Claiming that we've wasted the defense budget and offended their honor and any number of other things. My questions for them are: Were you just as offended when given a Code of Conduct card to carry? Do you have a copy of the Oath of Enlistment or The NCO Creed nearby? Do they offend you? A good friend of mine and I were discussing this recently. I asked her what she thought of some of these reactions and she said, "You know what Dave, I think it's the hit dog that barks the loudest."

Could it be that all of this negativity is fear that we can't or don't model those values that our soldiers and we are now constantly reminded of? Do you think that spouting off a bunch of negative cynicism is modeling the values? Another friend of mine, who is an influential soldier in our Army told me, "Too many people look for the bad in something before they look for the good in it." In this case he was right on target.

There is potential for a major failure out there however. And, from the rumblings, it looks as though some units are heading that way. If leadership turns values into a "program" it's failed. Our values, their importance, and how we model them deserve a lot of discussion at all levels of leadership, but they have no place on a Quarterly Training Briefing slide.

Values are the code of Honor we claim to live by.


The challenge that lies ahead for all in the uniformed services is an unfailing commitment to do the right thing in every walk of life. At times the right path can prove to be elusive. There are various reasons for this, be it bureaucracy, politics or hypocritical leadership. One cannot allow others misgivings to interfere with one's own actions. We must be forthright and relentless in the pursuit of truth. Leaders at all levels must demand of themselves, their peers, their leaders and subordinates a standard of conduct beyond reproach. - J. Rodriguez

© 2000 J. D. Pendry