Discipline in the Army: Common Army and Military Discipline Issues

I’ve spent about 15 years in the Army.  I have to tell you that discipline in the Army isn’t what it once was.  Even during my short military career, I’ve seen discipline decline steadily.  Please know that I’m not saying there isn’t any discipline in the Army.  There is.  In fact, there are many great units and great Soldiers (probably 90% or more of all Soldiers and units).

But there is also a bunch of riff-raff in the Army ranks.  Whenever the Army lowers its standards, we see lots of Soldiers enter the ranks who wouldn’t normally qualify for military service.  In addition, many Basic Training Units are pressed to graduate a “high percentage” of their trainees.  As a result, many “low quality” Soldiers slip through the cracks rather than getting weeded out right away.

Furthermore, many States (especially in the ARNG) have to retain as many Soldiers as they can, to meet the force structure requirements and keep their federal funding.  Sometimes this prevents Small Unit Leaders from being able to separate or discharge unfit Soldiers.  As a former Company Commander, I can attest to that.

During my 15 years in the Army, I’ve seen everything from:

  • Soldiers not saluting their officers
  • Soldiers talking to General Officers with their hands in their pants
  • Soldiers intimidating their leaders
  • Soldiers constantly late for formations
  • Soldiers talking back to their leaders
  • Soldiers constantly failing to meet standards, but never held accountable
  • Soldiers wearing the uniform like they are back on the block

In some of these instances, the Soldiers were punished immediately.  And in other cases, the leaders acted as if nothing was wrong.

Once again, these issues aren’t present in every unit.  But if you were to visit different units in the Army, you would see what I am talking about.

I still believe that most soldiers strive to do the right thing and wear their uniform with pride.  Most Soldiers respect Army Traditions, Rules, Customs and Courtesies.  And they want to be part of a time honored tradition (I know I did).

Once again, discipline in the Army really varies by unit. Some units are highly disciplined and others aren’t.  It really boils down to the unit’s leadership teamIf the leaders make discipline a top priority, the unit will be disciplined.  And, if they don’t enforce the standards, set a good example, and hold their followers accountable, there will be MAJOR discipline issues in the unit.  It’s as simple as that.

The best units I’ve ever served in were HIGHLY disciplined. The leaders understood that discipline is the bedrock of success in the military.  They trained hard, enforced the standards, prepared for their wartime mission, and took great PRIDE in everything that they did!  Slackers were held accountable and high performers were rewarded.

If I was in charge of the Army for even one day, this is what I would do to improve discipline in the Army:

1)      Set high standards for new recruits – keep out the criminals

2)      Set high standards in Basic Training – get rid of the misfits who can’t meet the standards or comply

3)      Give the Small Unit Leader the leeway to evaluate Soldiers and separate the poor performers

4)      Create Army Policy that focuses on retaining QUALITY Soldiers, not just quantity

Of course, I’m not the boss or the Commanding General.  But I think these are the best ways to improve the discipline in the Army.

What are your thoughts? Is your unit highly disciplined, or is it lacking? What do you think leaders could, and should do about getting their discipline issues to an acceptable level?

Please post your questions and comments below. Thanks.

chuck holmes

Chuck Holmes
Former Army Major (resigned)
Publisher, Part-Time-Commander.com
Email: mrchuckholmes@gmail.com

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37 thoughts on “Discipline in the Army: Common Army and Military Discipline Issues”

  1. Candace Ginestar

    I agree with Gerald, completely. Also, if you discipline your Soldiers, it turns into an EO issue or something similar. Soldiers know how to use things to their advantage and threaten things that will end your career, and it’s used as retaliation instead of a protection method for those who need it.

    1. I agree that EO and IG can ruin your career, if you aren’t careful. But that’s a risk that comes with wearing the brass. I think it’s sad in the Army that young Soldiers have more rights than their leaders, but it is what it is.

      1. Candace Ginestar

        Even the threat of EO can sometimes do more harm than actually making the complaint. It makes people scared to act. Personally, I’d rather have integrity and do what’s right and deal with the consequences as they come.

  2. Well said … I wish instead of fighting on what color of PT belt a Co. should use, they focused on this issue that it's affecting a great percentage and growing faster e/a day.

  3. My thoughts on this issue are to increase the standards at the recruitment office, because that is where it all begins. It is also the first interaction with the individual. Reason being, the economy as of right now is dwindling; people are searching frantically for jobs, which leads criminals and so-called “bums” to seek out employment through the military. This is a big issue! If it does not end at the recruitment office, then problems will persist all the way up into the training process. I personally do not think that it is an issue with the leaders (which this of course could be the case), but rather, it is an issue with the recruiting and screening process.

  4. I am a strong proponent of discipline–the need to provide it as well as the need for self-discipline. Katelyn, while you bring up some valid points, the Army has become a last resort for a high percentage of the population you reference, often not with the honorable intentions noted. A large portion of them have made poor choices that have led to their not have anywhere else to go, except maybe jail, and the Army is now tasked with cleaning up their lives.

    I agree with the article's assertion that the "new" Army has been forced to relax discipline and almost coddle some soldiers. This enables the undesirable behavior and creates risk. If the Army has to enlist them, then they should have their hands untied to effectively deal with the accompanying issues. You are exactly right that many of these kids have never had the discipline they need, which carries me right to the point that entered my mind when

    I first read Chuck's article–discipline starts at home. Parents are the first line of defense for their children's successful transition into adulthood. Let me just qualify this statement by saying that I do not contend that all good parents turn out good kids or that if that if the kid has problems, the parents must be bad. What I am saying is that if certain principles are applied early in a child's life, the chances for the development of character and self-discipline are much higher, leading to better outcomes and a worthwhile investment for the military.

    The Army core values of loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, honor, integrity and personal courage are fundamental to strong character development for everyone, and if it did not start at home, then expecting the Army to pick up the slack is an unrealistic charge.

    1. Like I said the in the article, discipline in the military has been on the constant decline. It’s starting to be more like Jerry’s Kids. I can’t speak for every unit, but most units are no where near as disciplined as they should be.

      1. I hear this often. It’s unfortunate because it detracts from the reason you are all there in the first place. It seems that a number of people who enlist are 16-year-old bratty teenagers stuck in a body that chronologically continues to age. I don’t envy the leadership in the military–in fact, I admire them, because it’s hard enough to work with or raise kids through those teen years, so I can’t imagine the infinite skills and patience that must be drawn upon each day when trying to prepare them to defend this country. I agree with you wholeheartedly when you say that you would focus on retaining quality soldiers, not just quantity. I wonder how recruiting and retention would change if this were the mindset of the military? I’m betting it would not decline as some predict, as quality attracts quality.

        1. I was definitely a project for my NCOs and Officers when I was an enlisted Soldier. My parents raised me well, but I was a heathen and had a lot of growing up to do from the ages of 18-21. Fortunately, my NCOs tolerated me and did what they could to make me better.

          I always tried to remember that when I was a leader. I’d ask myself “what was I doing at that age?” It helped keep me grounded and make better leadership decisions.

  5. Katelyn Hensel

    I like what you have to say about maintaining quality soldiers instead of just quantity. This can be applied to every corporation and group in the country. You want people that you can trust, that you know are striving to do the best job they can. That being said, I’m not sure about the first point you make about how you would bring discipline. Oftentimes, criminals are products of their environments, like inner city kids whose parents don’t care about them and let them wander the streets at a young age. These kids have never had the discipline that they need and often fall in with the wrong crowd and follow a path to crime. I feel like some of those criminals are looking for the structure that the military can provide and can start down a better path towards becoming a stronger, better, and more active part of our society in a way that another job can’t give them as well as the army.

  6. I can relate to Lauren’s comments. Though an officer and the army training unit supervised are far different from a teacher and the classroom supervised, I see many similarities in regards to the attitude and actions of present-day students. I taught middle school English for 13 years in the 90s and early 21st century. Today, I find myself having to remind students over and over to take care of important tasks to be successful, but they still do not do them, i.e., be on time, do homework, head online and offline paperwork, and show respect to each other and me. I don’t remember it being like this in the first years of my work in education. How does one enforce when the standards of behavior and attitude have been lowered by the system?

    1. Maintaining discipline in the Army is probably very similar to teaching. You have to set a good personal example and hold everyone to the same standard. And you have to get creative about what measures you use to reward good behavior and punish bad behavior because everyone is different.

      Thanks for the comment.

    2. I believe that discipline is the bedrock of success in the US military. Without discipline nothing else really matters. It all starts in basic training and continues in each unit. Unit leaders must hold themselves to a high standard and they must enforce their subordinates to an equally high standard. Without discipline, when the bullets start flying, chaos will break out and people will end up getting killed.

    3. I’ll have to agree with the other comments and folks that discipline in the Army is definitely going down hill. Heck, you even see General Officers fired for political reasons, even though they are very competent at their jobs. I’m really not sure why anyone would serve in today’s Army where the lowest ranking soldiers can make one accusation (whether true or not) and get their superiors fired.

      1. Very true, Natalie. I’ve never understood how someone could be fired or relieved, just because they were accused of doing something. I always thought that was wrong. Whatever happened to innocent until proven guilty?

        1. Candace Ginestar

          Everyone is so touchy feely these days over issues, that they overreact and fire people or they ‘resign’, because of public opinion. Unfortunately at the GO level, you’re somewhat of a politician, not just restricted to the Army.

  7. Neil ODonnell

    Maintaining discipline from the outset is definitely vital to the success of any unit. Everyone from Unit Leaders to Commanding Officers needs to maintain a strict adherence to rules and customs or discipline will wane as will the cohesion of the unit. Relaxing of rules at times is certainly understandable, but it is a slippery slope. Additionally, all soldiers need to be held to the same standards, or soldiers will lose respect for leaders and units will lose cohesion.

    1. I’ve always believed that units are a reflection of their leaders. Good leaders create good units with good discipline. Bad leaders have bad units with little to no discipline. It always starts at the top!

      Just my thoughts, Neil. Thanks for the comment.

  8. Neil ODonnell

    That is great advice for those seeking management positions. When an applicant is entering a new field, companies are likely going to make certain employees gain familiarity with the industry before offering any manager position. Even applicants with previous senior management experience will struggle to gain managerial work until they prove themselves knowledgeable of and capable in a new field. A good idea for soldiers entering new fields is to seek out related internships or even volunteer experience prior to applying for a manager position. Such experiences, which local colleges can help soldiers arrange, could save a job applicant years of working entry level jobs.

    1. Many people forget that you have to pay your dues. Just because you proved yourself with one organization doesn’t mean that you can join a new organization and start at the top.

    2. In today’s Army, it seems like most leaders are scared to discipline their soldiers and followers. It’s as if the young soldier has more rights than the senior leader. I’ve never subscribed to that mindset myself, but I think that’s a big part of the problem. I blame a lot of that on the liberal media and politicians. The Army should be running the Army, not the politicians.

  9. While your Soldiers MUST give you respect because of your rank, make sure that you are also EARNING that respect. Many NCOs have a bitter taste in their mouths when it comes to Officers and with good reason. All the respect and high pay with half the experience? Work hard and consistently to EARN that pay and that respect!

    1. I agree with you, Justin. I can see why many NCOs are bitter toward Officers.

      However, a good Officer is worth his weight in gold, especially in combat, if they are good at what they do.

      Respect will always be a two-way street. Sure, you can respect the rank. But ultimately you must earn the “personal” respect of the person by being good at what you do and treating others well. You have to give respect before you can earn respect.

      I hope more officers can make a note of this.

      Thanks for the comment.

  10. Lauren,

    You are definitely right on that one! I used to be a news reporter, but noticed the moral in the newsroom is just not what it used to be! Leadership is contagious. You’re right- we need to have more people that are hard-working and disciplined like they are in the army.

    1. Discipline is paramount to the success in any organization. Even if it boils down to self pride. Good leaders set a strong personal example and also enforce the standards. This applies to ministers, law enforcement, teachers, the military, sports teams and any other organization or business you can think of. I truly believe that discipline is the foundation for success in life and in business.

      1. Sometimes I just scratch my head when I see what the Army is coming to. When the E4 has more rights than the 1SG and Commander, you know that things are headed in the wrong direction. The biggest issue is that everyone is more concerned about being politically correct and not “offending” anyone that they forget we are a military organization, not an after school KEY Club. I think the WW2 and Vietnam Era generation would be disgusted if they saw what the standards in the Army are like now.

  11. I’ve also noticed a difference in terms of respect among military officials. I’m glad to know that I’m not the only one. It seems like the morale is dwindling and people don’t even realize what they stand for anymore. It’s good to know there are still soldiers who have the strong and respectful mentality . Hopefully it will be contagious to other service men and women that read this!

    PS: DON’T UNDERESTIMATE THE POWER OF GETTING CLOSE TO YOUR LEADERS. SHOW THEM RESPECT and they can be the one to help you advance in your military career in the longrun.

    1. Great points Michelle.

      Most Soldiers do the right thing. However, when you find lots of Soldiers with discipline issues, you will also find a weak leadership team. Soldiers are a reflection of their leaders. Good leaders can make bad Soldiers good Soldiers. When you lead by example, set a high standard, a have high expectations of your followers, you won’t have too many discipline issues in your unit.


  12. I can also relate this to my experiences in the classroom. So many classroom teachers are becoming bored or ‘burnt-out’ on teaching that they care less and less about enforcing discipline, setting high standards, and leading by example. But then I’ve also seen classes full of students that are hard-working, achieving, and disciplined. It depends on the leadership and modeling, much like commanding an Army unit.

    1. Everything rises and falls on leadership. All organizations are a reflection of their leader. A good teacher can turn the Bad News Bears into a bunch of superstars and a bad teach can ruin a large group of good students. The speed of the leader truly is the speed of the team.

  13. I would imagine it’s a fine line to walk as a leader as far as knowing when you discipline and how hard to discipline at any given time based on the issue. I believe things have changed for the better as far as having a greater understanding of how to deal with specific issues, and I think it’ll only get better over time.

    1. Disciplining people effectively is a science. You must know how to discipline each Soldier based upon their strengths, weaknesses, and personality. What works for one Soldier probably won’t work with another Soldier. That’s why you need to know your Soldiers well.

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