Definition of Military Discipline

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Definition of Military Discipline

Military Discipline is a state of order and obedience existing within a command. It involves the ready subordination of the will of the individual for the good of the group. Military discipline is an extension and specialized application of the discipline demands habitual but reasoned obedience that preserves initiative and functions unfalteringly even in the absence of the commander. Discipline is created within a command by instilling a sense of confidence and responsibility in each individual.

Discipline demands correct performance of duty. The need for discipline is best inculcated in individual by appealing to his sense of reason. In the few instances where appeal to reason fail, the use of punishment is effective in causing a recalcitrant individual to conform and perhaps appreciate the need for discipline. Condemnation and earned praise from senior to his subordinate, either individually or collectively, for tasks well done serve to strengthen the disciplinary bonds which bind together the smooth functioning team.

Max Anders says, "Only the disciplined ever get really good at anything." Everything in life requires some sort of discipline. Whether it is hitting a baseball, climbing a mountain, playing a musical instrument, making good grades or brushing your teeth it all comes down to a matter of discipline.

"The core of a soldier is moral discipline. It is intertwined with the discipline of physical and mental achievement. Total discipline overcomes adversity, and physical stamina draws on an inner strength that says drive on." - Former Sergeant Major of the Army William G. Bainbridge

Self-disciplined people are masters of their impulses. This mastery comes from the habit of doing the right thing. Self-discipline allows Army leaders to do the right thing regardless of the consequences for them or their subordinates. Under the extreme stress of combat, you and your team might be cut off and alone, fearing for your lives, and having to act without guidance or knowledge of what’s going on around you. Still, you—the leader—must think clearly and act reasonably. Self-discipline is the key to this kind of behavior.

In peacetime, self-discipline gets the unit out for the hard training. Self-discipline makes the tank commander demand another run-through of a battle drill if the performance doesn’t meet the standard—even though everyone is long past ready to quit. Self-discipline doesn’t mean that you never get tired or discouraged—after all, you’re only human. It does mean that you do what needs to be done regardless of your feelings.

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"Definition of Military Discipline." 24 Oct 2017
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"An officer or noncommissioned officer who loses his temper and flies into a tantrum has failed to obtain his first triumph in discipline." - Noncommissioned Officer’s Manual, 1917

This understanding, along with Army values, forms the foundation of great units. Units that have solid discipline can take tremendous stress and friction yet persevere, fight through, and win. Fostering initiative builds on motivation and discipline. It requires subordinates’ confidence that in an uncertain situation, when they know the commander’s intent and develop a competent solution, the commander will underwrite the risk they take. While this principle applies to both direct and organizational leaders, the stakes are usually higher in larger, more complex organizations. Additionally, organizational leaders may be more remote in time and distance and subordinates’ ability to check back with them is diminished. Therefore, organizational leaders’ understanding must develop beyond what they can immediately and personally observe.

The highest form of discipline is the willing obedience of subordinates who trust their leaders, understand and believe in the mission’s purpose, value the team and their place in it, and have the will to see the mission through. This form of discipline produces individuals and teams who—in the really tough moments—come up with solutions themselves.

One sergeant major has described discipline as "a moral, mental, and physical state in which all ranks respond to the will of the [leader], whether he is there or not." Disciplined people take the right action, even if they don’t feel like it. True discipline demands habitual and reasoned obedience, an obedience that preserves initiative and works, even when the leader isn’t around. Soldiers and DA civilians who understand the purpose of the mission, trust the leader, and share Army values will do the right thing because they’re truly committed to the organization.

Discipline doesn’t just mean barking orders and demanding an instant response—it’s more complex than that. You build discipline by training to standard, using rewards and punishment judiciously, instilling confidence in and building trust among team members, and creating a knowledgeable collective will. The confidence, trust, and collective will of a disciplined, cohesive unit is crucial in combat.

You can see the importance of these three characteristics in an example that occurred during the 3 October 1993 American raid in Somalia. One soldier kept fighting despite his wounds. His comrades remembered that he seemed to stop caring about himself, that he had to keep fighting because the other guys—his buddies—were all that mattered. When things go badly, soldiers draw strength from their own and their unit’s discipline; they know that other members of the team are depending on them.

That same soldier spirit came by a seemingly and most unlikely hero who embodied the third paragraph of the Soldier’s Creed. I am disciplined, physically and mentally tough. Trained and proficient in my warrior tasks and drills. I always maintain my arms, my equipment, and myself. I am an expert and a professional.

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