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Public Affairs : 2014 National Conference on Ethics in America

NCEA focus on honorable living, building trust 

By Class of 2014 Cadet Gabrielle Mangru
Brigade Respect Captain
WEST POINT, N.Y. (Feb. 12, 2014) — The mission of the 2014 National Conference on Ethics in America, Feb. 3-5 at Eisenhower Hall, was to provide the U.S. Military Academy superintendent with clear, concise, forward thinking—and most importantly—actionable recommendations on the NCEA theme of “Inspiring Honorable Living and Building Trust.”

The event, hosted by the William E. Simon Center for the Professional Military Ethic and the USMA Class of 1970, has long served as a venue for undergraduates across the nation to convene and discuss moral and ethical issues within their institutions and in the nation.

However, with an Army in transition and significant effort underway to develop an Army Ethic that captures the lessons of over a decade at war, this year’s conference was different.

Roughly 200 cadets were asked to join subject matter experts, academy staff and faculty to take a hard look at how West Point shapes cadet behavior, inspiring them to meet the Army Profession’s standards of honorable service.

The event was co-chaired by the brigade honor captain and brigade respect captain, Class of 2014 Cadets Clare Moser and Gabrielle Mangru, respectively.

Moser opened the conference thanking the cadets for sacrificing their time to attend. She said if they put in enough effort into the conference, the participants can affect real change within the Corps of Cadets and perhaps the Army at large.

“This is a unique opportunity to communicate to our leadership the best ways to live honorable and how to build trust,” Moser said. “We are uniquely suited to answer this call because we are cadets, and as such we know cadets best.”

Reflecting on this year’s theme, she said that meant the Honor Code and Respect Creed would now be the minimum expected from the Corps of Cadets.

“This means that we need to not only inspire ourselves but inspire other cadets to live above and beyond the Cadet Honor Code and Respect Creed,” Moser said.

So how can one cadet be inspired while inspiring 4,399 other cadets to live with honor?

“That’s the whole reason we are here,” she said.

USMA Superintendent Lt. Gen. Robert Caslen Jr. shared his intent for the 28th iteration of the NCEA which he provided before the conference to the Cadet Planning Committee—comprised of members from the Honor and Respect Committees and Cadets Against Sexual Harassment/Assault. In addition to the focus on finding a common understanding on what it means to live honorably, he said building trust is of particular value to leaders as well.

“When you have the trust of your boss, it is amazing what you can accomplish,” he said. “If you have the trust of your subordinates ... they’ll look you in the eye and know they can put their lives in your hands and follow you to the ends of the earth. That trust is built on your competence, but probably more important it is built on your integrity.”

He said the outcomes of NCEA are important not only for what it can do for the academy, but the potential for the Army and transform its military communities.

“There is nothing more important, in my opinion, then you being right here, right now,” Caslen told the delegates. “You’re at some particular point where we can set the foundation at West Point, and I guarantee you it will have impact for the rest of the Army.”

Caslen introduced the first plenary speaker, Gus Lee, who told the cadets to get uncomfortable because they’ve been selected as architects in shaping the academy’s future.

“Understand that you will be facing continuous discomfort,” Lee said. “One of the reasons the United States no longer engages in active, dynamic and kinetic character development is because it is uncomfortable, and we don’t like discomfort in American culture.”

The nationally-recognized ethicist and best-selling author spoke on the “Seven Behaviors of Character” and would later lead workshops on courageous communication and conflict resolution.

Later, the delegates heard from Angela Duckworth from the University of Pennsylvania, who spoke about grit and the requirement for determination and training one’s weaknesses to excel in any given field, to include character. Dr. John Haidt, from New York University’s Stern School of Business, discussed the benefits and challenges of developing an honor community and how individuals execute moral reasoning. He is the best-selling author of “The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion.” The final speaker was Dr. Morten Ender, from the USMA Department of Behavioral Sciences and Leadership, who spoke about how the millennial generation is inspired and how they build trust relationships.

In addition to the plenary speakers, 18 groups of cadets participated in various workshops led by cadet facilitators from the Class of 2014 and faculty facilitators.They received hand-on training about the important matters of courageous communication, peer coaching and conflict resolution.

Each group designed and performed creative and applicable skits as well as practiced active listening and effective communication techniques with each other.

Throughout the conference, cadets were asked for their input in regards to three types of questions. The first group of questions asked them to define honorable living and trust in their own words and also note where the academy has succeeded in the promotion of those concepts and where it has fallen short.

The next group asked those same questions, but in regards to the specific programs within West Point—Character, Military, Academic and Physical. The last group were specific questions that required cadets to examine some in-depth aspects of West Point like sub-cultures, how to promote a winning spirit, the respect and honor programs and more. These results were presented town hall style to the superintendent, USMA command sergeant major, the dean of the academic board and assistant commandant at the end of the conference.

“The results were phenomenal,” Moser said. “In just two days, cadets combined efforts and devised very feasible and valuable feedback and were able to present these ideas directly to the superintendent.”
Class of 2014 Cadet Hayden Tippett served as a cadet facilitator in one of the small group sessions during this year’s National Conference on Ethics in America at the U.S. Military Academy.

In the first round, Moser conveyed what cadets believed it meant to live honorably, build trust, what inspires them, and what some obstacles to inspiration existed within the Corps. Among the offerings were: “Examples of building trust is using mission command and teachers leaving the room when cadets take tests,” and “An example of living honorably is consistently being respectful to someone who disrespects you.”

The outbrief continued with feedback regarding the specific academy programs. The NCEA co-chairs spoke on behalf of the delegates and requested that the leadership allow them to use 360 feedback more often, being mindful of the time constraints in the Corps and if a Stand-Down Day could be dedicated to character-building and education.

In the final round, all 18 cadet table facilitators stood before the superintendant and briefed what they accomplished. One table, when discussing how to allow cadets to self-reflect and internalize their learning, suggested issuing every new cadet a “Leader Reflective Journal.” During Cadet Basic Training, time would be devoted to allowing new cadets time to write in this journal and the motto would be the “Urge to LRJ.”

Another table spoke about implementing a cadet mentorship program that would be run similar to the sponsorship program. Cadets would sign up on the Corps’ internal website to be either a mentor or mentee. Not unlike eHarmony, firsties and plebes would be matched based on mutual interests. It would be entirely voluntary and allow plebes to engage with senior cadets outside of their company.

Another table tackled the sensitive topic of SHARP and discussed the tendency to vilify all men instead of specifically the perpetrators of offenses. They suggested the Corps should be better educated on appropriate and inappropriate methods of flirtation and ways to address sexual harassment before they become sexual assault.

Following that brief, USMA Command Sgt. Maj. Delbert Byers approached the NCEA leadership and concurred with those delegates’ assessment because roughly 40 percent of sexual assault cases are male on male, which clearly shows this is not a gender issue.

Dean of the Academic Board Brig. Gen. Timothy Trainor said he was glad to hear that his instructors take the time to speak to cadets about the real world and Army life. He was very excited about the LRJ idea, noting that they’ve been looking for a way to provide cadets with time for introspection.

“It is clear that this conference will have an impact on the Corps in the future,” Moser said. “This NCEA was groundbreaking in that it is one of the first times in West Point history that cadets were asked and allowed to provide their commentary about the academy to their leadership. The superintendent reiterated numerous times that he intends to use these recommendations to alter the state of the Corps for the better.”

Some ideas may be easier to implement than the ones which suggest altering the definition of non-toleration, but the superintendent assured the audience that all feedback would considered.

“This conference represented the willingness of the West Point leadership to go straight to the source for recommendations on how to change culture, and that is a huge step in the right direction in and of itself,” Moser said.

Editor’s Note: The Simon Center for the Professional Military Ethic also contributed to this article. The Pointer View would like to thank Cadet Mangru for writing about the NCEA. As co-chair of the conference, she said: “I am sure that when the firsties return to the academy for their five-year reunion, we will hear about the Corps’ enthusiasm towards this conference and the major changes that have been seen since this transition in 2014.”
Gus Lee was the first plenary speaker at the 2014 National Conference on Ethics in America Feb. 4 and addressed more than 200 U.S. Military Academy cadets, staff and faculty on “Seven Behaviors of Character” at the Eisenhower Hall Theatre.