MENDHAM, N.J. – The U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command’s senior leader used white tape, a football, sand, pebbles, a brick, and water to teach a lesson on honor and ethics to Mendham middle school students, Feb. 13.
Before the Mountain View Middle School students arrived, Lt. Gen. Daniel Karbler, USASMDC commanding general, set up his supplies and outlined a miniature football field in the front of the classroom, putting down about 8 feet of white tape along the wall including goal lines and hash marks.
“It’s the ethical playing field,” Karbler told the nearly 70 eighth grade students as he stood near the center of the taped-off area.
Holding a football, Karbler moved to the edge of his field, still inside the taped lines, but just barely.
“Am I in bounds or out of bounds?” Karbler asked.
Students in the front row could see where he stood. Those farther back could not.
“I was pretty close to the edge,” he said. “You couldn’t see; you couldn’t tell if I was in or out.”
Moving to the middle of the taped field, he asked again: “Am I in bounds or out of bounds?”
Both students in the back and front of the room answered in unison, “In bounds.”
“I’m clearly in and everybody knew that because I’m in the middle of the ethical playing field,” Karbler said. “Conduct yourself so you’re always in the middle.”
Karbler encouraged students to not put themselves in positions where their honor, ethics or truthfulness could be questioned.
“Don’t be the person who’s right here on the edge,” he said. “Some will know your position, but others won’t be too sure.”
With the eighth grade students preparing to transition to high school, Karbler, a graduate of the U.S. Army Military Academy, talked about his life experiences and shared how the West Point Cadet Honor Code guided him through his academic, military and personal life.
“The West Point Honor Code says ‘A cadet will not lie, cheat, or steal or tolerate those who do.’ This is my model for honor and honorable living,” he said. “It’s a simple code, but it hard to live by.”
And many do not. According to researcher Stephen Davis, today more than 75% of college students surveyed each year report cheating in high school.
Karbler told the eighth graders that situations and pressures in life will tempt them to cheat, to lie, or to steal, but they must choose how they respond.
He modeled honor by pouring water on sand, pebbles and a brick. The water represented the tough times in life.
He asked students to consider how they would respond when life gets hard. Would they fall apart and flatten like the sand, move like the pebbles, or stay solid like the brick?
“A brick doesn’t dissolve,” he said. “It represents an honorable foundation.
“When the going gets tough, someone with honor doesn’t collapse; they don’t let their integrity fall,” Karbler said. “They stay tough.”
He told students that an honor code becomes who you are and how you treat people.
“It’s how your friends and family and those you work with see you,” Karbler said. “Can they trust and rely on you?’”
He encouraged the students to establish their own codes.
“You have to within yourself establish your own code,” Karbler said. “Grab a friend and hold each other accountable. Are you going to be the sand that moves everywhere or the brick that stays solid?”