Reflection on Service and DutyBy Darren Murch OAM August 6, 2019
What does service to your nation mean to you? And, how often do you consider your duty to serve others? These questions offer a moment to reflect on a perspective of service and duty. Historical images of courageous units surging from the trenches will not be used to inspire, nor will descriptions of compassionate soldiers tending to orphan children during disaster relief be offered. Rather, this post aims to engage your private thoughts to validate your commitment to things that are greater than us.
The Power of Reflection
Professional military education rightly provides an avenue to enhance what is already known or introduce elements of the profession that are new or emerging. Personal reflection is a topic that often enters education and leadership discussions but during the search for more information, reflection can be put aside so more information can be poured into the brain. Reading about, and functioning in, an environment requires more than just information; understanding one’s role provides context and humility to own your enterprise (Burrow and Marshal, 2019 & Murch, 2019). Reflection is a key element of being centred and accountable to the responsibilities of serving in the military. The impact of the highs and lows of life can easily influence the commitment that service and duty require. Over-emphasising accolades can lead to an egoist and arrogant demeanour while the affects of failure can cause a loss of confidence or unethical behaviour. Recognising these and other emotive responses will allow servicemen and women to remain focused on their fundamental responsibility to serve and be dutiful.
Accountability to Service and Duty
This post will not provide defining statements of service and duty. If they need defining, then a military person should read no further but research this topic and reflect on their purpose to be in the military. The interested civilian who reads on most likely has an underpinning sense of what selflessness and commitment to the greater good means. Many domains including the military, religious, moral and leadership fields promote an others-before-self mantra, so service and duty is applicable yet relative to a variety of situations. Tough decisions exist for all people who feel they have a duty to fulfil or a need to serve others (as opposed to providing a service). For a military person, the added exposure to a threat environment can make the realisation of service confronting. However, this reality must not become a righteous justification that loses the humble reality it is meant to be. Any military person will recognise the extremes of their duty are fleeting occurrences during a career but the non-operational part of their life fills most of their days. During these longer parts of a career that are involved in garrison routine and training, acceptance of service and duty can waiver.
Motivation to observe an 'others-before-self' commitment is something more easily said than done, let alone it being an authentic personal belief. To further test a military person’s resolve to service and duty comes when the necessity of the mission or task is a higher priority over others and self. Regardless, service and duty will expect an others-mission-self or mission-others-self mantra. Leaders must reflect deeply to recognise their life-purpose and how that relates to being responsible for leading others. All people will have difficult times in their lives when they will need to address self-related issues, so it is the responsibility of their leaders to provide space so that person can return to a giving state. On the other hand, when personal stressors are negligible, life’s comfort are taken for granted and decisions are made to improve one’s life over making sacrifices for others, leaders must be tough on themselves and recall what it means to serve. Conversations and thoughts that are centred on “I” or “me” are immediate warning signs that focus is not squarely on the betterment of others or the organisation. Leaders must recognise this and anticipate the circumstances when they revert to this thought logic and reframe it, so others are the central focus.
Service and duty are not isolated to leaders but are the concern of all military personnel. However, how leaders exercise their authority and lead according to the situation can provide a positive or negative role model effect for others. Reflection on questions such as what does service to the nation mean and how often does one consider their duty to serve others can be humbling reminders of what a military is expected to do. The attention on service and duty must be an intrinsic value that orientates and grounds a person to remain conscious of their choice to join the military.
Burrow, C. & Marshal, R. (2019). The command sergeant’s major role in fires and maneuver. NCO Journal (April 2019).
Murch, D.J. (2019). Own your enterprise.