Tuesday, March 28, 2023

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LIFE MATTERS: Developing Leaders of Character

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By Dr. Col Dencio Acop (Ret), PhD (USMA ‘83)

In a world sorely lacking leaders of principle and character, West Point stands out as a bastion of principled leadership developing leaders of character. It is the United States Military Academy so it is expected to develop cadets who are future army officers across three basic pillars: academic, military, physical. But the academy through all its years of existence has also actually implemented the three main programs by emphasizing character. Thus in 2015, West Point ‘formally established character as the fourth pillar of cadet development’ (from the West Point Winter 2022 Magazine). The Cadet Honor Code is another system run by the cadets themselves but supervised by the academy. ‘Honor is an essential element to developing leaders of character at the United States Military Academy.’ (WPM-W2022).

It is in fact ironic that in today’s modern battlefield where lethality and winning at all costs are the emphasis, West Point, while intent on producing leaders who win wars, is teaching its products to ‘win the right way’. And ‘winning the right way requires moral leadership’. (WPM-W2022). The ways and means by which an army fights is a choice. ‘The main function of any military organization is to professionally manage the application of combat power or violence.’ (WPM-W2022). West Point is leading the way in terms of revolutionizing how wars especially today must be fought. It insists that there must be honor in prosecuting warfare or everybody loses. Winning wars at the expense of constitutional values will eventually cause an army’s society to implode. Lack of honor among military leaders, including civilian commanders-in-chief, could push a button that will lead to World War III and nuclear annihilation. Therefore, it makes much sense to have leaders of character across all echelons through the chain of command. Only through such can armies and nations go to war if they must, and still have a chance for humanity to win even if an antagonist loses.

To ensure that cadets learn actual and not just theoretical models of the concept, the academy teaches real-life cases that test how a future leader will react once commissioned into the army. The program has already received favorable feedback from graduates who have applied learned models to their experiences in the field. It is right in its approach not to canalize learners into thinking that there is this or that model that will work in specific scenarios. Rather, the program teaches all to carefully think through and assess while there is still time to do so inside the classroom until the familiarity becomes habitual for the future officers to draw from down the road. The program also includes a daily reflection on what transpired during each day of training allowing cadets to journal their thoughts for record and review. This is done during the summer when cadets perform their military training. Personally, this reminded me of the Jesuits’ Ignatian Spirituality of journaling daily reflections aimed at betterment and ultimately, holiness. As one who graduated from this great institution as an allied cadet, it was simply pleasing to read through the winter edition of this year’s Association of Graduates publication themed ‘character education at West Point’. I am mighty proud that my alma mater continues to be a staunch advocate of moral character leadership development. If all leadership programs were anchored on developing leaders of character, the world would be a much better place.

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