Army looks for new ways to address misbehaving generals

Monday, September 25, 2017
FILE - In this March 27, 2008, file photo, an aerial view of the Pentagon. The Army is putting together a series of new mental health, counseling and career management programs to shape stronger, more ethical leaders. The move is an effort to grappling with an embarrassing rash of misconduct and behavior problems among senior officers. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak, File)

WASHINGTON -- Struggling with an embarrassing series of misconduct and behavior problems among senior officers, the Army is putting together new mental-health, counseling and career-management programs to shape stronger, more ethical leaders.

The programs stem from a broader worry across the military about the need to bolster professionalism within the officer corps while holding accountable those who abuse their power. The Army plan appears to focus more on building character than berating bad conduct.

In recent years, general officers from the one-star to four-star level have violated the military code of conduct they've lived under and enforced -- often for decades. Some infractions involved extramarital affairs, inappropriate relationships with subordinates or improper use of government funds.

"The idea that we'll be perfect, I think, is unrealistic, but we can be better, and we strive to be better," said Lt. Gen. Ed Cardon, tasked by the Army's top officer to review the problem and devise ways to strengthen the senior officer corps. "Competence is no longer enough. Character is as or even more important."

Among the incidents fueling the order was the suicide of Maj. Gen. John Rossi shortly before he was to become lieutenant general and assume control of Space and Missile Defense Command.

Army leaders worry they missed opportunities to deal with the high levels of stress and self-doubt that reportedly led Rossi to hang himself.

In the past nine months, the Army found two senior officers guilty of misconduct, forcing them out of their jobs and demoting them as they retired. One lost two stars; the other lost three.

"We recognized senior executive leaders, with varying amounts of stress, lacked a holistic program that focuses on comprehensive health," said Gen. Mark Milley, the Army's chief of staff.

The military has strived to combat stress disorders, suicide and other problems, he said, but the focus often has been on enlisted troops or lower-ranking officers.

A new emphasis on senior leaders is needed, he said.

In an interview, Cardon said several pilot programs have started, and others are under discussion.

The Army, he said, needs to help officers better manage stress, organize calendars, make time for physical fitness, take time off and reach out to mentors or coaches for support.

Cardon said a key effort is finding ways to build self-control and self-awareness, ensuring officers and their families quickly can recognize and deal with problems that arise. Ethical behavior should be reinforced.

One pilot program, Cardon said, creates a one-stop health-care facility replacing the military's often far-flung, disjointed, multistep system.

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