03 October 2014

Remember Keating: A Five-Year Retrospective, Part 6

This is the final part in a six-part series. Read Part 1. Read Part 2. Read Part 3. Read Part 4. Read Part 5.

Three Medals of Honor have been awarded in connection with COP Keating, two from the final battle. As the highest honor a soldier can receive for action in combat, these awards ratify the ways the soldiers fought. In essence, they legitimate the way they organized themselves. That organizing activity was heavily influenced by the Warrior Ethos.

SSG (Ret.) Clint Romesha.
Properly understood as a tool that soldiers use to enact and make sense of their environment, the Ethos is a powerful instrument in combat. The actions of the soldiers in battle of COP Keating illustrates as much in several ways. While soldiers act during combat, they do so without carefully rationalizing those actions. Instead, they look for validation after the action. The language of the Warrior Ethos gives them material to make the necessary meaning.

None of this is to say that the American soldiers had not been combat effective until 2003, when they were enlightened with a breakthrough mission statement. But to dismiss the power of the Warrior Ethos is to commit two major errors. One is to ignore the overwhelming superiority of U.S. combat performance relative to the nation’s battlefield enemies. The other is to ignore the fact that the current force is regarded as the greatest fighting force of modernity.

Certainly many factors contribute to the effectiveness of soldiers in combat, but to take the extreme position that the Warrior Ethos affects it in only a minor way to is take the position that words don’t matter, that what trainers tell Soldiers don’t matter, and that soldiers are merely components in some mechanistic, post-human form of warfighting.

That claim defies the human dimension of battle, and the centrality of human relationship in organizing in it.

The above was adapted from a paper I submitted in a doctoral seminar in organizational communication. The paper was titled, "More than Mere Words: Enacting the Warrior Ethos in Combat."

Quotes from the Soldiers are taken from The Outpost: An Untold Story of American Valor by the eminent Jake Tapper. References to enactment, sensemaking, and other social psychology ideas are mainly from the various works of Karl E. Weick. 

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