MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. --
From a service member’s first day in recruit training a set of standards is thrust upon them. The code of conduct, the core values of honor, courage, and commitment become more than just words, they become a guideline on how the rest of their lives will be spent.
However, in the everyday world outside of the carefully structured environment of recruit training making the right choice is not as easy. With nobody looking over a service member’s shoulder, doing the right thing at the right time is not always automatic.
In order to combat this, the Marine Corps is educating their Marines on ethics, and the importance of practicing making the right choices in any situation, even those that may seem trivial.
“Since 1775 Marines have been facing ethical challenges both in garrison and in combat,” said Lt. Col. David Bardorf, the commanding officer of Marine Corps Installation East - Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune’s Headquarters and Support Battalion, while facing Marines from his battalion, as well as Marines from Combat Logistics Regiment 27, 2nd Marine Logistics Group. “That holds through to today, every single day we’re faced with a challenge.”
Bardorf was in a crowded theater with Sgt. Major Michael Rowan, the sergeant major of HQSPTBn., to train their Marine’s minds to handle difficult situations, supporting the commandant of the Marine Corps, Gen. James Amos’ goals of reaching every single Marine in the Corps.
“Our core values we have held true to are what make us who we are,” said Bardorf. “Our hard earned, solid reputation is forged through blood, sweat, tears and discipline. (Our values) are the standards that we will uphold.”
Bardorf and Rowan guided the Marines through the murder of Kitty Genovese. They discussed the Good Samaritan Experiment held by the Princeton Theological Seminary, and the Stanford Prison Experiment giving insight into the bystander effect, the disparity between ones ideals and what they do when faced with a tough decision and how power corrupts.
It was more than a discussion. The leaders were backed up by video of some of the experiments and interviews by people who took part in them.
For instance, a man who was a part of the Milgram experiment, an experiment that showed how people can obey those in power even when it hurts another, answered questions on the video and discussed what was going through his mind when he followed orders that led to, what he believed to be, the electrocution of another person.
“John Wayne” from the Stanford Prison Experiment also spoke about his role as a guard in the experiment, where he oppressed other volunteers who had been given the role of prisoners.
There were also comedic examples of situations where group thinking can change the usual behavior of an individual, easing the mood of the heavy topic.
While most of these held examples of civilians’ breach of ethics, they reflected on the situations Marines face.
There is a negative side to cohesion that service members have, said Bardorf. It can lead to blind conformity and group thinking.
One of the videos discussed the My Lai Massacre, where a company of service members that reflected a cross section of American youth executed 347 to 504 unarmed civilians.
“I think people walked away with better insight into themselves,” said Lance Cpl. Ryan Cole, a legal services specialist with 2nd MLG. “It gave us an understanding that all of our choices are equal. We got a better sense of what the Corps should be.”
Staff Sgt. Jeremy Burns, a court reporter with 2nd MLG, feels that it is important to focus on the small issues and standards.
“We have to use small unit leadership to explain how setting the standards at (the small unit) level is important to the Marine Corps,” said Burns. “We have to show how that degrades us as a force in readiness.”
Bardorf stated materials and guidance would be provided so that every shop in his battalion could have discussions about the topics breached in the presentation.
When a Marine makes a small choice it sets the framework for the choices they make under more stringent circumstances.
The video detailing the My Lai massacre left the deepest impression on the Marines present. It reflected how some soldiers in My Lai made the right choice that day but some of them let their ethics break to the point that, to this day, they cannot see how they are responsible for the massacre.
“You cannot shirk responsibility,” said Bardorf. “You must train yourself to make the right decisions. Develop a sense of moral courage to make the right choice in the face of adversity.”