Being a member of the Profession of Arms. A RCAF Chief Warrant Officer’s perspective
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CWO N. Bélanger
If you subscribe to the Cold War writings of Samuel Huntington concerning who is and who is not a professional within the Profession of Arms, then this paper is not for you. If, however, you are a believer that non-commissioned members (NCMs) are professionals, then read on.
In his cutting-edge book The Soldier and the State, Huntington hypothesized that only officers could be considered professional soldiers. According to Huntington, officers are concerned with the management of violence while the NCM’s focus is on the application of violence. From this, he concluded that the expertise and responsibility required to manage violence make it a profession, whereas applying violence necessitated much less training and education, hence making it a mere trade.Footnote 1 Huntington’s suppositions came during an era when Cold War tactics prevailed and there was no requirement for NCMs to do more than apply the violence dictated by those managing it within our hierarchical top-down environment. However, in today’s complex, uncertain, and volatile operational environment, NCMs require skills and understanding that extend far beyond the mere application of violence.
Before moving forward and getting to the overall objective of this paper, which is for NCMs to refine their understanding of what it means to commit to the responsibilities and behaviours as articulated in Duty with Honour: The Profession of Arms in Canada, it is imperative that we examine the terms profession, professional, professionalism and professionalization as they relate to the NCM corps. A profession, according to noted sociologist Andrew Abbott, does not have a fixed definition. Speaking loosely, Abbott states that a profession consists of “somewhat exclusive groups of individuals applying somewhat abstract knowledge to a particular area."Footnote 2 In the case of the profession of arms, that particular service is the “ordered, lawful application of military force pursuant to governmental direction.”Footnote 3 Members of this profession are trained to use lethal force in fulfilling their duties and a member of this profession must also be prepared to die in defence of his/her duties (unlimited liability). It is this acceptance and belief in unlimited liability that distinguishes and sets the Profession of Arms apart from any other profession.
A professional is any member of that profession who possesses the specialized knowledge and skill required from that profession. The minute you swear the oath of allegiance you become a member of the Profession of Arms, and CAF doctrine states that the first time you put on a Canadian Armed Forces uniform, regardless of whether you are an officer or NCM, you become a professional as this status is based upon the responsibilities inherent to the use and management of violence.Footnote 4 Along with putting on the uniform, there are very high expectations for both behaviour and practice.
Professionalism comprises the personally held beliefs about one’s own conduct within the profession and it (professionalism) must be taught.Footnote 5 It cannot be assumed that sailors, soldiers, airmen and airwomen understand what it means to be a professional, thus Duty with Honour defines professionalism as comprising four attributes: responsibility, expertise, identity, and professional ideology.Footnote 6 These four attributes will be individually examined throughout this paper.
Finally, professionalization is the pattern of how a profession develops.Footnote 7 The professional development (PD) of the NCM Corps has been the focus of considerable attention since the issuance of NCM Corps 2020 and the inclusion of NCM as professionals within the Profession of Arms. Initiatives such as PD programs like the Intermediate Leadership Program (ILP), the Advanced Leadership Program (ALP), the Senior Leadership Program (SLP) and the Senior Appointments Program (SAP), along with the influx of education-centric content on these courses at the “Chief Warrant Officer Osside Profession of Arms Institute plays a key role in enabling [the NCM Corps] to develop the intellectual and leadership skills they will need to meet the requirements of command in an increasingly complex and changing world.”Footnote 8
Naturally, one cannot simply decree themselves to have professional status because it is not an inherent right; professional status must be granted by the public. “The public will enter into the necessary social contract only if the service offered is of vital importance.”Footnote 9 Social contract and what happens when a party breaches the contract will be discussed further later in the paper. Certain characteristics or criteria, which are typically measured against traditional professions, like Medicine and Law, are required in order to judge whether a particular occupation qualifies as a profession. Most notably, these criteria include “a skill based on theoretical knowledge obtained through extended and standardized education, demonstrated competence, a high level of organization, codification of behaviour and altruism”Footnote 10 or self-sacrifice. Therefore, as you will see, based on this yardstick, the NCM Corps possesses all the defining elements of a profession, thus making them professionals within the Profession of Arms.
In Duty with Honour, military professionalism is characterized by four main attributes: Responsibility, which is our duty to society (social contract/codification of behaviour); Identity, which reflects our unique standing within society as sailors, soldiers, airmen and airwomen (high level of organization); Expertise, which is the abstract body of knowledge that soldiers possess (demonstrated competence); and Military Ethos, the values and obligations underpinning the Profession of Arms (altruism or self-sacrifice). It is these four attributes that cement the Profession of Arms as a profession. Further, the attributes are incorporated into the broader construct of the uniquely Canadian Military EthosFootnote 11 which is founded on the principle of mission before self. And nothing reinforces this principle more than “unlimited liability.”Footnote 12 Unlimited liability is the concept that all CAF members are subject to being “lawfully ordered into harm’s way under conditions that could lead to the loss of their lives.”Footnote 13
I want to stay on the concept of unlimited liability because it is more than just being willing to accept an operational posting. Unlimited liability equates to the precept of putting the mission before anything else, including ourselves. This is described to us using the philosophy of “mission, man, self.” This credo easily rolls off the tongue, but simply learning this idiom by rote does not make it a core belief, nor does it prove an adequate depth of understanding. For a more in-depth understanding one should study the CAF Effectiveness framework.Footnote 14
When I joined the Canadian Armed Forces, I was instructed to read and sign dozens of forms before I swore my oath of allegiance and headed off to Cornwallis, NS for my recruit training. One of those papers I was required to sign referred to this abstract construct called a military ethos. I suspect, like most young people from my generation, I just signed it and never gave this thing a second thought. That is until much later in my career. Because I did not understand its function within the Profession of Arms, I did not always subscribe to these attributes. I did not always act in a professional manner, nor was I held to that, and I defaulted to protecting my buddies and myself.
It was not until I started truly practising direct leadership that my point of view began to change and I unconsciously ingested the true meaning (for me) of military ethos. Leading people at the rank of master corporal (MCpl) through to the master warrant officer (MWO) rank involved more face-to- face leadership and was military task-centered. As I moved through the leadership levels, I quickly learned that leading the institution was more about my span of influence; influencing people using the personal power that I had amassed over my career to change day to day activities. Through trial and error, I discovered that leading people and leading the institution do not involve two completely opposing philosophies, but rather are “two, always present aspects, of a leadership approach.”Footnote 15 For example, Robert Walker explains that whether leading people or leading the institution, “the purpose and the general objectives are the same up and down the continuum, however the process evolves and the specifics of the requisite attributes change.”Footnote 16 This new perspective on leadership allowed me to have that epiphany of awareness that changed the way I saw things and allowed me to return to the Duty with Honour publication and really examine the taxonomy of attributes of military professionalism and my role as a CAF leader.
Responsibility is defined as our duty to society – the defence of Canada and Canadian interests - meaning that civilian control makes security subordinate to the larger purpose of our nation, rather than the other way around.Footnote 17 Our purpose is to defend society, not define it. But, what exactly does that mean? When the state gives us the right to use deadly force as prescribed, this right must be exercised with discipline and integrity. Former Deputy Chief of Defence Staff, LGen (Ret) R. Crabbe, stated that “discipline serves three purposes; control force so it is not abused, ensure mission accomplishment despite dangers, and assists in assimilating a new recruit to the institutional values of the military.”Footnote 18 Discipline is easy, but self-discipline is fundamentally harder than following a set of orders because self-discipline entails the ability to pursue what one thinks is right despite temptations to abandon it. If this sounds familiar, it should, because I am talking about integrity – one of the core values of a CAF member. As stated by United States Army Lieutenant Colonels Zeb Bradford and Frederic Brown:
"The professional [soldier] must be an unconditioned servant to state policy; he must have a deep normative sense of duty to do this…One cannot do his duty unless he has courage, selflessness, and integrity. The military profession must have these group values as a functional necessity.”Footnote 19
What I have learned over the years is that as professionals, we must not only comprehend our responsibilities to society and to our subordinates but we must commit and practice the CAF values of duty, loyalty, integrity, and courage.Footnote 20 If we fail to act with integrity, the highest standard of ethical behavior, then we lack professionalism and cannot claim ourselves to be professionals.Footnote 21 Scandals from the 1990s, the final straw being the torture and murder of a Somali teenager, led to a widespread loss of trust by both the government of Canada and its citizens, who felt that its soldiers no longer represented Canadian values. This loss of trust or violation of the terms of the social contract (expectation that military would not abuse the power entrusted to them in their own interests) resulted in the military losing the “right to investigate itself, and thereby stripped a key attribute of any profession, self- regulation, from DND and the [CAF].”Footnote 22 The question we need to pose to ourselves before moving forward is: today, are we carrying out our responsibilities as defined and is integrity a problem amongst CAF members?
As the Chief Warrant Officer (CWO) for the Canadian Armed Forces Strategic Response Team on Sexual Misconduct (CSRT-SM), I would propose that integrity is a problem amongst some CAF members. Today’s military culture has shown that there appears to be significant differences between the military ethos – as epitomized by Duty with Honour – and the existing standards being practiced.Footnote 23 As stated earlier, a lack of integrity parallels a lack of professionalism and this can have both an internal and an external impact. Internally, if we lose the trust of our own members, it triggers a cascade of effects. As illustrated in Former Supreme Court Justice Madame Deschamps’ Report on Sexual Misconduct, if as leaders we are quick to turn a blind eye to inappropriate behaviours our subordinates follow suit and victims lose faith that anything will be done. Externally, the loss of trust can be potentially devastating because it reflects what society thinks of us as an institution.Footnote 24 There can be little argument that behavioural integrity is important. This notion should be common sense. But, “if it’s so straightforward, why is it so rarely observed?”Footnote 25 It takes courage to profess your ethical standards and then act accordingly. And, although it should not have to be said I will say it anyway; courage is not just demonstrated on the battlefield! A leader who can consistently do the right things, when they need to be done, regardless of the potential loss of status or however great the personal cost, is a leader with courage and integrity. Courage and integrity are not things you pull out of a drawer dust off and exercise when it suits you; they must be practiced daily.
The next attribute I would like to examine is identity, which can be directly correlated to our shared value of loyalty. Identity reflects our unique standing within society as sailors, soldiers, airmen and airwomen. A professional within the Profession of Arms, first and foremost, will see himself/herself as a member of society, but while serving, he will never be a civilian.Footnote 26 Assuming that society holds a military member to a higher standard than a civilian, we must remember that we are “not separate from and superior to society.”Footnote 27 Most importantly, our identity is one of a Canadian citizen, and our loyalty is to Canada, but “our first loyalties within the military are to the Canadian Armed Forces.”Footnote 28 One of the comments in the guiding principles of former Chief of Defence Staff, General Rick Hillier, made was as follows:
“Be proud, to be a sailor, soldier, airman or airwoman, but not so proud as to be stupid, not so blindly loyal to your environment or unit that you cannot effectively make decisions for the betterment of all, but loyal so you can work within one hyper-efficient team that can accomplish much more for Canada.”Footnote 29
Our collective identity or sense of belonging is about the one thing that all CAF members have in common; the one thing on all our uniforms that is the same, regardless of which environment you serve in – The Canadian Flag – the core of which revolves around the three concepts that we identify with: voluntary military service, unlimited liability and service before self.Footnote 30
Expertise is defined as the abstract body of knowledge that CAF members possess. Expertise is interconnected to our shared value of duty. Duty means fulfilling your obligations as a military professional, “always in agreement with legal principles and other values of the military ethos.”Footnote 31 In other words, this means having “a highly developed capacity for judging when to use military force.”Footnote 32 Like any other professional organization, the CAF practices a craft and for the military professional that craft is the art of war. Like identity, expertise is more encompassing than a member’s trade and the special skills it takes to operate within the member’s occupation. Therefore, professionals within the Profession of Arms must possess a common body of military knowledge, supporting knowledge and specialized knowledge.Footnote 33 This knowledge follows a natural progressive path: learn the profession, practice the profession, lead the profession. Early in a member’s career, the CAF focuses training on technical knowledge and expertise required for the member to operate and lead within their occupational speciality. As the member rises in rank and responsibility, the expertise required to function is expanded into strong military and organizational knowledge, education and information. At the most senior NCM rank levels, the expertise is about strategy and institutional knowledge, which is necessary to function within a joint environment and at the same time understanding the manoeuvrings of government, as well as comprehending the differences when CAF is inserted within the Department of National Defence.Footnote 34
Today, I am proud to say I unequivocally accept the concept of unlimited liability; I possess a specialized body of military knowledge and skills; I act in accordance with the set of core values and beliefs found in the military ethos; and I have truly embraced the belief that duty entails serving Canada before self. I am a professional within the Profession of Arms! Duty, loyalty, integrity, and courage are no longer words that roll off my tongue when asked if I can name them, but rather are standards of behaviour that I do my utmost to live by, every day and in everything I do, whether in uniform or out of uniform. As stated at the beginning of this paper, I did not necessarily join the CAF understanding this abstract thing called “military ethos”, but through our NCM Corps’ superb education and training system and some amazing leaders, I was taught the true meaning behind the underlying sentiment that informs our belief system and the standards of behaviour that accompany our shared values. Now, when I state I am a professional within this great profession, I know in my heart that I have earned this title and I wear it with pride. Nonetheless, my obligation as a senior leader does not end simply because I can now explain Duty with Honour; I must teach and continue to practise these values and principles in our organization, like so many senior non-commissioned members before me. I conclude with this principle of altruism: duty is no more complicated than the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”Footnote 35 It is about choosing the harder right over the easier wrong. Duty with Honour is about respecting the dignity of all, serving Canada before self, and obeying and supporting lawful command.
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