By Nick Simeone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, June 20, 2014 – “I don’t know of an institution in the world that has higher personal standards than the military. We want to keep that,” Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said in March as he announced the appointment of a Navy admiral to be his senior advisor for military professionalism following a series of highly publicized incidents that he said called for reinvigorating “our ethics and character.”
Three months after taking that job, Rear Adm. Margaret “Peg” Klein has arrived at some tentative conclusions not always easily recognized within the ranks of the bureaucracy of the world’s largest public employer.
“I have to look at the components of trust and make sure we are training our people on how important trust is and what goes into trust,” Klein said today in an interview with American Forces Press Service.
Accountability is at the top of her list, she said.
Klein’s mission is to coordinate with the Joint Staff, the combatant commands and the military services to determine how each can better focus on ethics, character and competence at every level.
“Every once in a while, humans make mistakes and so the goal of my office is to look at the best practices across the services and up our game,” she said.
Department officials point to several instances of ethical lapses in particular that led to the creation of her post, including the case against Army Gen. William “Kip” Ward, the former commander of U.S. Africa Command who was demoted two years ago after the Pentagon’s inspector general found he had improperly expensed travel and misused aircraft assigned to his command.
Earlier this year, the Air Force relieved nine officers, allowed a commander to retire and disciplined nearly 100 others after airmen in charge of the nation’s intercontinental ballistic missiles were found to have cheated on a proficiency exam. That came on the heels of allegations that Navy personnel at the Charleston Nuclear Power Training Unit in South Carolina had cheated on a qualification exam.
“I think there were a series of incidents that happened in fairly quick succession that told the secretary he needed someone to singularly focus on this,” Klein said. Hagel has said the department needs to determine whether there is a deeper, wider problem than these instances alone and has said addressing the matter remains the department’s top priority.
Since becoming the secretary’s senior advisor on ethics, Klein says she has met with a diverse set of academics and practitioners with the goal of further developing the professional military and in the process has discovered a common leitmotif.
“Very important is the culture of accountability,” she said. “We have to make sure that across the department that that culture is understood and reinforced at all levels.”
It’s fundamental issues such as these, she said, that go to the heart of what puts the U.S. military in a class all its own.
“We see trust as a foundation that makes us an effective fighting force,” Klein said. “I have to look at the components of trust and make sure we are training our people on how important trust is.”
Some observers have wondered whether a military under stress from 13 years of continuous war has contributed to some of the ethical issues affecting the force. “It’s not about the war itself,” Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said in March.
“It’s about the pace at which we’ve been operating and the fact that we’ve neglected some of the safety nets that we’ve traditionally relied upon to make sure we’re living up to the values of our profession,” Dempsey added.
Klein says Hagel has given her two years to carry out her mission of determining the most-effective programs for improving the level of professionalism within the military.
“Once we’re able to institutionalize these best practices across the services, I’ve achieved success by working myself out of a job,” she said.