Fort Campbell Ky.--As Soldiers, we spend a vast majority of our days training and preparing ourselves for the physically demanding stresses of combat, but last week the leaders of the 1st Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division had an opportunity to study ethical decisions under stress of combat.
Lt. Col. Peter G. Kilner, an expert in the field of military ethics, with the Center for the Advancement of Leader Development and Organizational Learning and the United States Military Academy at West Point, N.Y. came to discuss the moral justification for killing in war with the leaders of the Bastogne Brigade.
"Every Soldier brings his or her unique talents and experiences to the fight. Over the course of my career, I have been fortunate to study both ethics and leaders in combat," said Kilner. "I have learned how important it is for combat leaders to be prepared to make good, ethical decisions in very difficult circumstances.
"If they don't make good decisions, everyone involved suffers. That is why I am passionate about bringing what I have learned to leaders who are about to deploy," Kilner continued.
The program was broken into five distinct parts, beginning with a presentation on the moral justification for killing in war.
"The presentation. . . empowers (leaders) with an understanding of the moral principles that form the foundation for the laws of warfare and the rules of engagement," said Kilner.
Next, the participants took part in a workshop on Ethics and Mentoring Afghanistan's National Security Forces which provided a methodology on how to make good judgments by asking "What are my considerations? What are all my possible courses of action?"
The third piece of the training was a talk on military ethics by Col. JP McGee, commander, 1st BCT, "Col. McGee's talk on ethics, 'why they matter, how they help us win,' was priceless for the BCT leaders about to go downrange. His presence there, as well as his words, demonstrated the importance he places on ethical conduct, as well as his realization that Soldiers have to make tough judgments in morally 'gray' situations," said Kilner.
"It's going to be different this time around because we are in more of an advisory role. I've been deployed a lot. To learn what (Col. McGee's) directives are, his philosophies, and his insights to us as senior leaders allows us to direct our Soldiers and get to the end state he wants," said Sgt. 1st Class Glenn Alexander, 426th Brigade Support Battalion.
During his talk, McGee reminded the audience that the Bastogne Brigade has a collective honor dating back nearly 100 years and that every member of the brigade is a custodian of that honor.
"We all have a role and responsibility to ensure that we return with that honor untarnished," said McGee.
The fourth part of the training centered on empowering leaders to handle casualties as professionals and continue on with the mission.
"'Leading After Experiencing Casualties' was designed to help participants who had experienced casualties on previous deployments to make sense of and learn from those experiences while also helping those who haven't experienced casualties to become more aware of what they will face and to thus become better prepared to handle it well," said Kilner.
The final piece of the training was an exercise based on a video of a leader telling a story of a near green-on-blue incident. Leaders used the methodology introduced in their training to collectively think through how to use good judgment to make proper decisions in that kind of situation.
"Overall, my approach recognized the wealth of hard-earned knowledge in the room and sought to create small-group conversations that would bring out that knowledge to benefit everyone," said Kilner.
Kilner went on to say that, "It's the nature of our profession that we are likely to have to make life-or-death decisions that affect many others--our soldiers, ourselves, civilians, our coalition partners--and we'll have to make those decisions with incomplete information and little time.
"We also have to live with the decisions we make, so we should do all we can to develop competence and confidence at making ethical decisions in complex, ambiguous circumstances.
"In war, things won't always turn out the way we want, but at least we can know that we have done our best to prepare ourselves to make ethical decisions," said Kilner.