Views regarding values, character, integrity shaped at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. With the exception of Army Ranger School (which I did not finish), West Point was the toughest thing that I did in my life. At West Point I was challenged physically, mentally, and still had to maintain a level of military bearing. As a plebe or freshman, I had to endure boxing, where I employed the strategy of trying to injure the other guys hands with my head. Then there was gymnastics where I was certainly not the most coordinated person in the world. During competitions/Olympics, you would see the athletes scoring 8s, 9s, etc. At West Point the instructors usually gave me a low 2 or a high 2. And there was swimming, where they made us swim 500 meters, in full BDUs with boots. I think it took me the entire class time to complete that task.
West Point’s motto is Duty, Honor & Country. During time there between 1982-1986 I sat through many lectures and discussions on the subject. About a year or two before passing away, General Douglas MacArthur delivered one of his most famous speeches at West Point, which began by quoting the motto Duty, Honor, Country. This was a speech that he delivered with passion, and no notes. We did not have to memorize the entire speech, but there is one memorable excerpt that we were required to recite.
Duty, Honor, Country. Those three hallowed words reverently dictate what you ought to be, what you can be, what you will be. They are your rallying points: to build courage when courage seems to fail; to regain faith when there seems to
be little cause for faith; to create hope when hope becomes forlorn.
West Point’s definition of duty is doing what ought to be done, when it should be done, without being told to do so, and with a spirit of service.
-- This is taught from a gradual process beginning with following orders at the lowest level, and moving to leading people and giving instruction.
-- Lots of time invested in teaching cadets how to understand this concept of duty.
The other aspect is instruction on honor. At West Point, the cadets are required to live by an honor code, which is: A cadet will not lie, cheat or steal, nor tolerate those who do.
-- Like duty, a significant amount of time is spent in lectures and small group instruction learning about these concepts.
-- At West Point, honor is taking very seriously.
-- A cadet who is caught violating the honor code will get kicked out of the academy.
--- This is a system that is run by cadets, not by the officers. However, built into the system, the West Point Superintendent (a 3 star general) will review each case before a final determination is made by the Academy as to whether a cadet is separated. There is also a procedure that would allow a cadet to have his case reviewed by the Secretary of the Army. The Superintendent and Secretary rarely overturned a decision to separate a cadet for an honor violation.
Then there is also the Cadet Prayer. There was a time when West Point cadets had to memorize this prayer, but that was no longer a requirement when in the early 1970s, due to a Supreme Court decision, West Point had to abandon mandatory chapel. I did not memorize the cadet prayer, but there is one line that stands out.
Make us to choose the harder right than the easier wrong, and never to be content with a half truth when the whole truth can be won.
These views also spill over in the Army, where things like honor, duty, integrity, courage and respect are taught to soldiers.
Looking back I definitely see the importance of these concepts both at the academy and in the Army. Unfortunately, there is one component that is missing. For West Point and the Army to produce leaders with integrity, the faith component is essential. To me a relationship God is the one thing that would allow a person to be able to hold onto his/her integrity in difficult situations. There were many times instances in which honorable men, including West Pointers, who encountered moral failure in difficult situations. Faith is certainly encouraged in the military, but there are limits because of we live under this concept of separation of church and state. Indeed, when West Point had to abandon mandatory chapel, the administration asked how are we going to instruct the cadets on integrity. Of course, it does not work unless the individual is willing to yield himself/herself to the Lord. Otherwise, you have someone who is mechanically following a set of rules, without purpose. That is the problem with religion and legalism.
In the military, as many know you have the chain of command. Privates, report to Sergeants, who report to First Sergeant, Sergeant Major, Lieutenants, Captains, etc.
With my West Point background and also having a father who served in the Army, I understood respecting the chain of command. It was not in my nature to ignore or contradict those in authority over me. Still, during my time in the military I was confronted with challenges that made me question whether I was doing the right thing.
Fort Benning – School of Americas Story
Multiple units were located at Fort Benning for training, including the US Army School of Americas(“USARSA” aka SOA). At USARSA, Latin-American allied nations would send their soldiers to Fort Benning for training American style. In 1988, I was temporarily assigned to USARSA to assist in the training of Salvadoran Officer Candidates. In El Salvador, officers normally come from their military academy. The class had a total of 81 officer candidates and lasted about 6 months. Working with me were 2 other American officers and 3 Salvadoran officers. About ¾ through the course, there was discussion about sending some of these candidates home because it was felt that they were not meeting the challenges of the training. This challenge was raised by the 3 Salvadoran officers. Some of us however, were skeptical and suspected this was an attempt to railroad some of the officer candidates out of the course.
The challenge presented to us was whether we should concede to the findings of the Salvadoran officers, thus failing the group of about 6 candidates or should we object. We interviewed the questionable candidates and decided that 3 should stay and conceded that 3 should be dismissed. Instead of a decision being made at our level, a formal conference was held with Salvadoran and American senior officers (around the rank of colonel). Long story short, we advocated on behalf of the 3 that we believed should remain in the course and they were allowed to stay.
Approximately, 2 weeks later, I was confronted by an American colonel (also a West Point graduate) who was not happy with how the conference went. He accused us of being poor hosts because we all 3 American officers contradicted the opinions of the 3 Salvadoran officers.
South American Story
A few years later, I was stationed in Panama. A platoon of about 30 American soldiers went to South America for joint training with a South American airborne battalion (approximately 500 soldiers). I was required to lead a team of approximately 10 soldiers to provide service support for the training – i.e., we provided cooks, medics, maintenance support, and ammunition. As part of the exercise, the South American army used some of our materials including ammunition. We probably used about 2/3 of the ammunition that was allocated for this particular training exercise. Thus, for accountability purposes we were required to send the remaining ammunition home. The American colonel that was in charge of this exercise wanted to do a favor for the South American colonel that commanded the airborne battalion. He wanted to let him have the remaining ammunition for their own training exercises. Although may not seem like a big thing, in the 1980s and 1990s, the Army was very serious about ammunition. There was always a requirement to keep an accurate count of ammunition used and ammunition available. The challenge here was do I say yes sir to colonel and let the extra ammunition stay in South America. I told the colonel no. He was disappointed, as well as his South American counterpart. From my observation, maintaining accountability with ammunition was a serious business. The colonel asked me to break the rules to do a favor for his counterpart. Also, if I did the alternative, I would have to face the soldiers and tell them that it is okay to bend the rules because the colonel said so.
It goes without saying that I strive to conduct myself with integrity with respect to the practice of law. Regarding the cases, I try to be upfront with clients and potential clients so that they do not get a false sense of security. I try to present them with both the strengths and weaknesses of their case. If I believe that chances for success are not there, I try to explain that as early as possible. Again, I do not want to give my clients false hope or waste their time, and money.
I admit that I do not get things right all the time. Still, I try to do my best to conduct myself with integrity in the legal practice. People respect that, and more importantly, it reflects well on my witness to others.