Discipline: from where I sit
By Col. Charles Beck, 45th Mission Support Group commander
/ Published October 16, 2008
PATRICK AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. -- Military discipline is a term that has been used, overused, and many times misused in our Air Force. It is applied to being a minute late, forgetting a meeting, improper formatting of a triple-S, and even a bad attitude. It seems now that the phrase 'Lack of military discipline' has become the reason attributed to mistakes. We have abused the term; creating an environment in which the meaning of discipline is lost. Embracing last month's emphasis of "Back to Basics", we must refresh our understanding of discipline; distilling it to its raw fundamentals the Spartans, Sun Tzu, and Romans were so famous for.
Boiling down the myriad of definitions out there, discipline is essentially the control over our vices; whether our laziness, our temper, or our temptations. In the military context, it is the control over our fear. This fear is what causes soldiers to disobey orders and to break ranks. Ancient military leaders and tacticians realized the importance of discipline in their forces, prioritizing this characteristic at the top.
In 660 B.C., Spartan King Agesilaus was locked in a debate over the success of his forces. He finally quieted his critics by stating, "Victory in war does not depend entirely upon numbers or mere courage; only skill and discipline will ensure it." Even today, the Spartans are revered for their discipline. Legendary military general Sun Tzu, whose works are studied in today's military war colleges, postulated that the art of war is based upon five constant factors, with discipline being one of them. When forecasting the outcome of a battle, he would consider which side enforced discipline more strictly. Using discipline and six other points in his forecast, Sun Tzu is claimed to have never lost a battle.
Discipline is fundamental to the success of our Air Force and our military. Without it, the American Revolutionary forces would never have stood firm at Bunker Hill on that fateful day in 1775 on the command of, "Don't shoot till you see the whites of their eyes!" The discipline displayed in this battle finally gave American forces credibility, showing the world we are a military to be respected. From this humble beginning, and through tough discipline, our Air Force has become the premier Air, Space, and Cyberspace force in the world.
With "Discipline" as our focus this month, let us understand the importance of discipline, but never lose sight of what discipline is: the ability to control our fear. We must also bring discipline back into our Air Force as a top priority. But we must never forget what Maj. Gen. John Schofield told the graduating Class of 1879 at West Point, "The discipline which makes the soldiers of a free country reliable in battle is not to be gained by harsh or tyrannical treatment. On the contrary, such treatment is far more likely to destroy than to make an army...."