Military Discipline: Examples, Tips, & Quotes

The purpose of this article is to discuss military discipline.

The military is well known for its discipline. For centuries, Soldiers have been portrayed as fierce, strong, and disciplined warriors.

When I think of my favorite military warriors: General Patton, General Custer, Napoleon and other famous leaders, I see a common trend of military discipline. These leaders achieved great success because of their competence and self-discipline, along with the discipline they instilled in their followers.

Discipline is the major difference between a bad Soldier and an excellent Soldier.

military discipline

What is Military Discipline?

What is the definition of military discipline? Here’s what I found online:

Discipline or “military discipline” as it is often referred, is defined as the state of order and obedience among personnel in a military organization and is characterized by the men’s prompt and willing responsiveness to orders and understanding compliance to regulation. Often, non-military members view all uniformed military services as organizations that have a very strict set of rules where it takes an enormous amount of discipline to thrive. Much of the perception that the Army is a very disciplined organization is true; from the time a civilian makes the choice to become a Soldier until that new Soldier walks across the parade field as they graduate from Basic training, discipline is a focal point in their training. ~ Army Press


Military Discipline is a state of order and obedience existing within a command. It involves the ready subordination of the will of the individual for the good of the group. Military discipline is an extension and specialized application of the discipline demands habitual but reasoned obedience that preserves initiative and functions unfalteringly even in the absence of the commander. Discipline is created within a command by instilling a sense of confidence and responsibility in each individual. ~

Examples of Military Discipline

Here are some examples of military discipline, just to give you some perspective.

  • Respect the rank of others.
  • Follow orders.
  • Place the good of the unit above the needs of your own.
  • Always give 100%.
  • Do what you say you will do.
  • Take PRIDE in everything you do.
  • Be accountable for your actions and your follower’s actions.
  • Obey orders, policies, and regulations.
  • Maintain your physical fitness.
  • Maintain your tactical and technical proficiency.
  • Do the RIGHT thing.
  • Treat others with respect.
  • Respect military customs and courtesies
  • Maintain your military bearing.
  • Never do anything to make the military look bad.

In my opinion, military discipline is the basic foundation of any successful military unit or military officer.

The best units I’ve ever served in had disciplined leaders who held their followers to high standards and held people accountable (including themselves) at all times. This is an example of good military discipline.

On the other hand, the worst units I’ve ever served in had weak leadership and poor military discipline. As a result, Soldier morale was low and performance was even worse. Can you relate?

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No one wants to follow a weak leader or serve in a military unit where Soldiers can do whatever they want. At least, I’ve never met anyone who desired that.

Instead, Soldiers want discipline. They want to follow a warrior leader. They want military discipline. They want order. That’s one of the reasons they joined the military in the first place.

true military leader

How it all Starts

From day one of Basic Training, Soldiers receive instruction on the Army values, discipline, leadership, and follower-ship. They are taught about the chain of command, the rank structure, and the importance of following orders. Most young Soldiers know what right looks like.

Unfortunately, once they get to their new units they don’t always maintain that level of military discipline. This happens for one of two reasons.

Either they aren’t self-disciplined themselves or their leaders don’t expect them to maintain a high-level of military discipline. Personally, I find it disheartening.

In my opinion it’s the little things that count, such as addressing people by rank, saluting, following orders, standing up when you talk to your superior, standing at attention or parade rest, staying in shape, and so much more.

When these “little things” start to slip, everything else goes down-hill fast. Your job as a leader is to not let that happen. Your job is to maintain the military discipline in your followers.

The New Touchy-Feely Army

Throughout the years, military discipline has shifted and changed to comply with the value system of our society.

For instance, several hundred years ago Soldiers could be executed or flogged for what we consider minor crimes today. Today a Soldier can kill a fellow comrade and only get jail time (and he might not even get that). It’s amazing how things have changed in the past hundred years.

We are now a “touchy-feely” and “politically correct” Army where many leaders are more worried about being politically correct than they are about enforcing the Army standard or maintaining military discipline.

My advice to any Army Officer is to lead by example at all times and ALWAYS enforce the Army standards to everyone your supervise. Do whatever it takes to maintain a high level of military discipline in your unit. If you do, you will have competent, disciplined Soldiers with high morale.

Tips to Improve Military Discipline

If you are looking to improve the military discipline in your unit, I have some helpful hints for you. Here it goes:

# 1: Always Lead by Example

This is the starting point to military discipline. Everything starts at the top.

Units are a reflection of their leader. If the leader is disciplined, professional, and competent, they will inspire the same in their followers. If the leader is not disciplined, the unit will not be disciplined.

A good leader can turn a bunch of misfits into a good unit and a bad leader can ruin a good unit.

# 2: Take Pride in Everything You Do

Be the best at what you do. Everyone wants to be part of an undefeated, state-championship caliber team. No one wants to be on a winless Junior Varsity Squad. Do you get the picture?

Strive to be the best. It doesn’t matter what your mission is. Remember, the job doesn’t make the person, the person makes the job.

Take pride in everything you do. Instill that same pride in your followers.

# 3: Enforce the Army Standards to Everyone

Soldiers want you to enforce the standards to everyone, not just the lower enlisted personnel. If you hold EVERYONE accountable to the same standards, you will see morale skyrocket.

If your standard is to FLAG someone who fails the Army Physical Fitness Test, then don’t let your staff or senior NCOs and officers off the hook if they fail their APFT. Enforce the standard equally.

Finally, the leader should strive to attain the highest standards in everything they do personally.

# 4: Reward Positive Performance and Punish Poor Performance

Don’t make the mistake of just correcting things when you a see a problem. If you are already addressing mistakes and shortcomings, that’s good. But, don’t forget to praise the people who excel.

If you’re afraid of confrontation, get over it. Your job as a leader is to enforce the standards. Be polite and courteous, but address issues as they arise.

When you see something exceptional, don’t forget to give the Soldier an “atta boy.” Put them in for an award, a unit coin, or simply give them a pat on the back. They will appreciate it. And, it will have a positive impact on morale.

One More Thing…

Remember, discipline is discipline. Whether you are in the military or not, you must be self-disciplined to achieve success in life. For instance, if you want to become an actor, you must possess the discipline to obtain your education, build a network of relationships, get a part-time or full-time job to pay the bills, and pursue your dream on the side for as long as it takes to succeed.

Very few people have this type of discipline. And, that’s why so few people become actors (or become successful).

In the military, only the self-disciplined officers progress to the senior ranks. That’s because military discipline is rare even among many officers. To succeed, you must follow the old advice from General Patton: “The only type of discipline is perfect discipline.”

George Washington discipline quote

Quotes About Military Discipline

I wanted to take a moment and share a few quotes about military discipline that I thought you would enjoy. After each quote I share my own two cents.

“Discipline is the soul of an army. It makes small numbers formidable; procures success to the weak and esteem to all.” ~ George Washington

In my own words, without discipline, there is no military or Army.

“It is absurd to believe that soldiers who cannot be made to wear the proper uniform can be induced to move forward in battle. Officers who fail to perform their duty by correcting small violations and in enforcing proper conduct are incapable of leading.” ~ General Patton

Leaders have the responsibility to set the example and enforce it.

The core of a soldier is moral discipline. It is intertwined with the discipline of physical and mental achievement. Total discipline overcomes adversity, and physical stamina draws on an inner strength that says ‘drive on.'” ~ Former Sergeant Major of the Army, William G. Bainbridge

Without discipline, you won’t be able to function as a Soldier, especially in combat.

“Without discipline the Army would just be a bunch of guys wearing the same clothing.” ~ Frank Burns

Discipline is the glue that keeps the Army together.

Final Thoughts

In summary, military discipline is the foundation of success in any military officer or military unit. Without discipline the Army would not function.

The best units and military leaders maintain a high level of self-discipline and hold their subordinates accountable for their actions.

On a side note, I’d love to hear your thoughts on this subject. Please share your tips and thoughts about military discipline with the rest of our community. Do you think discipline is important in the military? Just leave a comment to this post to tell us what you think.

chuck holmes

Chuck Holmes
Former Army Major (resigned)

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13 thoughts on “Military Discipline: Examples, Tips, & Quotes”

  1. I think the worst thing about the whole “touchy feely” attitude of society infiltrating our military is that it eats at the basic ideal of the Armed Forces. That ideal is that the Army is a team, a well-oiled machine with discipline, honor, and determination to work together to achieve its goals. The whole entitlement attitude of young recruits can undermine the soldiers’ self-discipline, resulting in individuals expecting to be treated as special and better, without having earned that.

  2. I'll start with an exchange from Crimson Tide:
    Capt. Ramsey: Those sailors out there are just boys… boys who are training to do a terrible and unthinkable thing, and if that ever occurs the only reassurance they'll have that they're doing the proper thing is gonna derive from their unqualified belief in the unified chain of command. That means we don't question each other's motives in front of the crew. It means we don't undermine each other. It means in a missile drill, they hear your voice right after mine, without hesitation. Do you agree with that policy, sailor?
    Hunter: Absolutely, sir.
    Capt. Ramsey: We're here to preserve democracy, not to practice it.

    A few great quotes in there. I'll highlight the last one. The goal of the military is keep people back home free. That requires everyone being on the same page discipline wise.

    I'm also glad you included the caveat of "Do the right thing." There are times when an unlawful order (not just one you disagree with) has been given and it's your responsibility to stay within the law and rules of engagement.

  3. The best leaders in the world are self-disciplined. I am also saddened how the military has tried to play the politically and socially correct ballgame. Because of this, we see less discipline coming from military circles. I truly hope the military works back to the standards the once held. Physical fitness is one huge issue in today’s Army. I see more and more soldiers and officers that are terribly out of shape. When I was in, they would be out.

    1. I agree that all good leaders are self disciplined. It really is the foundation for success. Discipline keeps you responsible, on track, effective and efficient. Every leader needs it.

    2. Johndel Callora

      This comment really hit the spot! If we look back in history many so-called leaders who are ruled our lands were often assassinated because they are so self-entitled not showing any characteristics of being a leader.

  4. Candace Ginestar

    I think some leaders are more focused on being politically correct because of the repercussions that come down if they aren’t. Does that make sense? I think that some Soldiers (the problem children) are the first to cry EO, IG, etc at the first sign of disciplinary action – even if it’s warranted. Makes it really hard to slam the hammer down.

    1. I used to tell people to go ahead and call IG and EO. If you have everything documented, you are good to go and have nothing to worry about. All IG can do is recommend anyway.

  5. The best leaders lead by example, and this is a proven method for instilling these behaviors in others. It seems, however, that there are a number of young soldiers, if you will please forgive me for seemingly picking on the young, who are more resistant to following this protocol. Apparently, it is viewed as demeaning rather than necessary. I’ve heard “Well, my platoon leader (or other higher ranking leader) can EARN my respect,” clearly having lost sight of the fact that he already did the time to earn the respect of the rank, at a minimum. Respect on a personal level can be cultivated, but respect of the leadership position and the military as a whole needs to be unquestioned from day one.

  6. I have worked with a few people who spent time in the military and they have always been more disciplined in their assignments and projects compared to others. Their skills and training learned in the military, particularly about leadership and organization has certainly helped them rise to the top in the their job performance.

    1. I agree. Most veterans and military folks have a lot more discipline than most civilians. You typically don’t get the attitude or selfishness that a lot of civilians have. Veterans are used to being on a team, they understand the chain of command, and they don’t normally have a problem showing up on time and getting the job done.

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