Ethics in the Army Awards System

There are several ethical issues facing the Army today. Some of these issues include fraternization, sexual harassment, sexual assault, gambling, drinking, favoritism, racism, gifting, and many more. However, ethics in the award system is one that is not talked about nearly enough. The objective of the DA Military Awards Program is to provide tangible recognition for acts of valor, exceptional service or achievement, special skills or qualifications, and acts of heroism not involving actual combat (AR 600-8-22, 2015). Awards should be given to soldiers that have earned those awards scrupulously, through hard work and dedication.

In the Army National Guard, a soldier can receive state awards, reserve component awards, and federal awards. No matter which sector the award comes from, all awards should be inspected by a senior NCO to ensure fairness and impartiality. When reviewing an award, leaders need to understand the Army ethic that is involved in doing the right thing. All too many times, the “good ole boy” politics system finds its way into the process, or the debated officer responsibility versus the enlisted work question. These problems can be avoided with an advocate of fairness, in the form of a senior NCO. A senior NCO needs to be very engaged in ensuring the right soldiers get the right recognition.

The Army Ethic

The Army Ethic is the evolving set of laws, values, and beliefs, embedded within the Army culture of trust that motivates and guides the conduct of Army professionals bound together in common moral purpose (ADRP 1, 2015). Living the Army Ethic is a commitment and an expectation. We, as Leaders, must uphold the Army Values (Loyalty, Duty, Respect, Selfless Service, Honor, Integrity, Personal Courage) to maintain this code of ethics set by our forefathers. We must teach our soldiers about ethics and train them to do the right thing, even when no one is looking. As leaders and mentors, if we expect our Soldiers to live by an ethic, then we must uphold the standard.

Character, comprised of a person’s moral and ethical qualities, helps determine what is right and gives a leader motivation to do what is appropriate, regardless of the circumstances or consequences. An informed ethical conscience consistent with the Army Values strengthens leaders to make the right choices when faced with tough issues. Army leaders must embody these values and inspire others to do the same (ADRP 6-22, 2012).

The Army Ethic enables trust internally within the ranks and externally with the American people. We earn trust by upholding the Army Values and exercising ethical leadership. We must never compromise our ethical leadership responsibilities. Also, we must have the courage to admit, accept, understand, and address our mistakes quickly. One of the very first lessons I learned as an NCO was to take responsibility for my actions, no matter the circumstances. Ethical leadership is necessary in all aspects of the Army to include awards.

The “Good Ole Boy” System

Although attempts to detach the “Good Ole Boy” system toxicity from the Army, it always seems to rear its ugly head in some occasions. This is where the awards received can be influenced by politics or “who you know”. Sometimes a delicate balance is needed, because the Soldiers that do outstanding work are highly favored. The Army needs average performers also and Leaders must never forget this. Hard work by the average Soldier is occasionally overlooked when they do exceptional work on a project. Senior NCOs must keep many factors in mind when judging performance.

Awards should be looked at what a soldier has done, not at the color of their skin or who they know. In the Army National Guard, many soldiers have followed in a parent’s footsteps. Many times, soldiers have been recommended for an award because of who that parent is. This is an ethical dilemma that plaques many units in the National Guard. A senior NCO reviewer that has good ethics can question these recommendations. As stated before, this is where the awards can be influenced by politics or “who you know”. This is unfair not only to other soldiers, but also the award recipient.

A deployment is regarded as an achievement, when in fact it is not. The key thing to remember here is the recommendation should be based on the situation. An award recommendation is for valor, an achievement, or for service. Only the circumstances of the event should be considered when the award is for achievement or valor. All leaders need to take the Army Values into account to ensure fairness. All awards should be based on what the Soldier did and not who the Soldier is. Failure to follow the Army Regulation (AR) by various leaders across the Army has led to a system that allows, or sometimes promotes, inequality in the approval of awards.

Awards for Soldiers

Enlisted soldiers must not be compared to what an Officer may or may not receive. It is imperious that Soldiers receive the appropriate award. Awards mean much more to the promotion of Enlisted when compared to the Officer promotion system. One of the areas that an enlisted promotion board consists of is for awards and decorations. Most enlisted Soldiers do not want awards, they just want to be treated fairly. Giving an award to a deserving soldier is a dynamic part of the Army awards program for recognition of outstanding performance or valor.

When considering valor or achievement awards, compare Soldiers out on the front lines to support staff roles. Senior NCO involvement can distinguish the difference between who should receive the awards; the Soldier doing the fighting or the Officer with all the responsibility. The senior NCO should consider fairness in the unit’s awards program, even as it applies to the officers in the unit. Those who are the most deserving often go unrecognized, while others receive awards for less than ethical performance or achievement.

When awards are recommended, it goes through a process to ensure grammar and punctuation is correct. Any recommendation with errors or without substantial justification, will be returned to the unit for corrections. Once corrections are completed, the award is resubmitted for approval. These recommendations are either approved or downgraded to a lesser award. If senior NCOs could inspect these awards before being downgraded, then possibly the soldier could receive the award they respectfully deserve.

Role of The Senior NCO

Senior NCOs should be promoters for fairness within their units, particularly Sergeants Major and Command Sergeants Major. This applies to evaluations, awards, and punishment. Senior NCOs being involved helps to take care of the soldier. As an advocate for the awardee, the senior NCO will ensure the correct level of recognition is given to the right individual. The senior NCO does not have to concur with the award recommendation, but they should be able to state their opinion to the approval authority to ensure fairness in the unit and the soldier.

Army leaders are expected to do the right things for the right reasons. It is why followers count on their leaders to be more than just technically and tactically proficient (ADRP 6-22, 2012). Senior NCOs must be ethical in everything they do, no matter the situation, if they want to be respected. By incorporating fairness into the award management system of their unit, senior NCOs can earn that respect from their troops. Ethical failure by leaders can destroy the morale and Esprit de Corps within a unit.

As a senior NCO, I will do everything within my power to take care of soldiers. Taking care of soldiers means to train them to standards, hold them accountable, treat them fairly, and give them the best equipment available to do their job, so they can be the best the Army has to offer. Treating soldiers fairly includes giving them the awards they deserve, getting them in the proper schools, and preparing them for the next rank.


A senior NCO needs to be very engaged in ensuring the right soldiers get the right recognition. It is critical that units can maintain fairness, when an awards’ management system is put into place; a senior NCO can be the mediator. Fairness is overlooked, all too often, when awards (valorous acts, service in garrison, and deployments) are recommended for soldiers. If Sergeants Major and Command Sergeants Major were more involved in the awards process, maybe fairness would not be overlooked as often.


  1. Department of the Army. (2015). Army Doctrine Reference Publication 1, The Army Profession. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office
  2. Department of the Army. (2015). Army Regulation 600-8-22, Military Awards. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office
  3. Department of the Army. (2012). Army Doctrine Reference Publication 6-22, Army Leadership. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office
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Ethics in the army awards system. (2021, Mar 24). Retrieved September 23, 2022 , from

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