Warrior Ethos

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Sterling C. Pendleton
  • 21st Space Wing Staff Judge Advocate

The crux of military law is to maintain good order and discipline in the pursuit of promoting justice and effectiveness in the military establishment. The Warrior’s Ethos further exemplifies these principals, representing the ideals that drive military law through physical and moral courage. Former Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. T. Michael Moseley stated the “Warrior’s Ethos exhibits a hardness of spirit, and moral and physical courage.”

Physical courage is a warrior’s ability to act despite their fears of consequences to their physical person, knowing their actions are necessary and just. The Army Rangers who scaled the cliffs at Pointe de Hoc, France during World War II to take out German guns were warriors. They scaled the cliffs, fighting on, in the face of certain death. Indeed, 225 began the mission and in the end only 90 remained. The Rangers at Pointe de Hoc courageously died for their country, for democracy and to liberate Europe from tyranny; things bigger than themselves.

Moral courage underpins who we are and what we stand for, guiding us through difficult decisions of morality and justice. On March 16, 1968, U.S. soldiers entered the small village of My Lai and killed hundreds of civilians. While some of the soldiers did not participate in the atrocities, none did anything to stop them. However, Warrant Officer Hugh Thompson, having witnessed the actions from a helicopter, showed true moral courage that day. Despite the risks of alienation by his superiors and derailing his professional career, Thompson immediately confronted the perpetrators and reported their actions. Thompson stood up for his ideals and the ideals of the military law system.

Airmen must have equal parts physical and moral courage. Physical courage to do what is asked of them and fulfill their duty, even in the face of uncertainty and danger. Moral courage to do what is right and hold themselves to a higher standard of civility and discipline. Without either of these principles, our military law system would be inert. The strength of military law lies in the strength of Airmen and our understanding and adherence to the Warrior’s Ethos.