Each service has a set of “core values” the service has identified as important principles for its members to follow. These core values are taught during basic training, or officer training, and are reinforced throughout a member’s service. For the Air Force the core values are integrity first, service before self, and excellence in all we do. The Army has seven; loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, honor, integrity, and personal courage. The Navy and the Marine Corps share the same core values of honor, courage, and commitment. The Coast Guard has defined their core values as honor, respect and devotion to duty. These are not just slogans or words to be thrown around. These values are part of what makes a military member. They should be incorporated into the member’s belief system, and become a part of the member’s character. As the Army says, “Army values are not just what we do, they are who we are.”
Each person has a value system. Values help us identify those things that are important in our lives. Values are taught by parents, family, friends, teachers and (perhaps unfortunately) our culture and society. Values may be based on religious teachings, or may reflect political ideation. Some values are superficial and may change over time as a person grows or matures. But a person’s core values reflect what is deeply important to them, and will usually stay with a person for life. So why do each of the services identify core values and teach them to new recruits during basic training and new officers during the commissioning process? Why are core values emphasized over the course of a person’s military experience? Because learning the core values helps a civilian transition into a strong, ethical, and trustworthy member of the military; ready to complete the mission assigned. As the Marines explain, once a person has earned the title of Marine, they become a Marine, and a Marine’s character is defined by the Corps’ values.
What do the values say about the character we want our Soldiers, Sailors, Airman, Marines and Coast Guardsman to have? Many of the services have the same or similar core values. It may be that the services’ core values reflect the services’ mission. It may be that the services’ core values reflect the values of that person all of us should strive to become, giving us similar ideals to value. To understand a member of the military, it may be helpful to understand the core values they’ve been taught.
Most of the services include honor as one of their core values. For Marines, the value of honor requires each individual Marine to demonstrate the ultimate standard of ethical and moral conduct, as well as uncompromising personal integrity. We expect that of Marines, because they expect it of themselves. An honorable Marine would never do anything to sully the reputation of the Corps. For the Navy, the value of honor also requires much the same thing; honesty, truthfulness, integrity, and accountability. The Coast Guard also identifies honor as a core value and defines honor much the same way as the other two sea services. According to the Coast Guard, honor is uncompromising ethical conduct and moral behavior. It is being loyal and accountable. For the Army, the value of honor means living up to Army values of respect, duty, loyalty, selfless service, integrity and personal courage.
The Air Force core value of integrity is similar to the other services’ value of honor. For the Air Force, integrity is the foundation for all the other values. Integrity is doing the right thing at all times and being honest with yourself and others; even when no one is looking. Integrity requires no compromise. The Army also lists integrity as a core value, and defines integrity as doing what’s right, both legally and morally. It is adherence to principles and will allow others to trust.
For Marines, courage, is considered “honor in action” and is based on moral strength, the will to do what’s right regardless of what others may do, and the willingness to take a stand. Courage is what carries Marines through the perils and hardships of combat. For the Navy, the value of courage helps a Sailor meet the demands of the mission, even when it’s hazardous, demanding or difficult. Courage is doing the right thing, even in the face of adversity. For the Army, having the value of personal courage means being able to endure physical stress and being able to face moral fear. It also means being able to risk personal safety.
The final value for the sea services is commitment. For Marines, commitment is considered total dedication to the Corps and to the Country. It’s also about teamwork with other Marines, to never give up, never give in, and never accept second best. It is selfless determination and relentless dedication to excellence. The value of commitment is what is behind the well-known saying that “once a Marine, always a Marine.” For the Navy, commitment has a slightly different meaning. For a Sailor, the value of commitment means respecting the chain of command and looking out for the welfare of other Sailors. It also means showing the highest degree of moral character and technical competence. The Coast Guard defines commitment in terms of devotion to duty. A Coast Guardsman exists to serve and serves with pride. For a Coast Guardsman, a devotion to duty is a commitment to achieving the mission.
The Army’s core values of loyalty and respect seem to be similar to the value of commitment. The Army values loyalty to both the country, the Army, and other Soldiers. Army also values respect, which requires a Soldier to treat others as they would be treated and being able to trust that others will do their jobs. The Coast Guard also defines respect as a core value. For Coast Guardsman, respect means working as a team by treating others with fairness, dignity, and compassion.
The Air Force has a core value of service before self. Service requires dedication to the mission and a sense of service before self, often requiring personal sacrifice. The Army also has a core value for selfless service; putting the welfare of the nation, the Army, and other Soldiers before your own.
Finally, the Air Force values excellence. For an Airman, excellence means the care of resources and the technical competence to accomplish the mission in the best way possible. The Air Force value of excellence is similar to the Army core value of duty. For a Soldier, duty is defined as fulfilling obligations, without taking shortcuts.
In some respects, all of these core values can be boiled down into a single concept: at the end of the day, can the Airman, Soldier, Sailor, Marine or Coast Guardsman in the mirror and be able to say, “I served by doing it the right way, the best way I knew how.” It’s those who learn that simple concept that truly serve.