Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel speaks at the Pentagon in Washington. Hagel is ordering military leaders to put a renewed emphasis on moral behavior across the force following a series of ethical lapses that have included cheating scandals among the Navy and Air Force's nuclear missions. (Susan Walsh / AP)
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Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel thinks there may be a “systemic” ethics crisis inside the military, his top spokesman said Wednesday.
Hagel is “deeply troubled” by a spate of military scandals in recent months, Pentagon spokesman Rear Adm. John Kirby told reporters.
“He definitely sees this as a growing problem,” Kirby said. “What worries the Secretary is that maybe ... he doesn’t have the full grasp of the depth of the issue. ... He is generally concerned that there could be, at least at some level, a breakdown in ethical behavior and in the demonstration of moral courage.”
Hagel wants “to put this topic front and center on the agenda,” Kirby said, adding that the secretary will likely announce new, specific measures to address the issue.
The sweeping concerns voiced by Kirby come amid recent reports of service members and some high-ranking officers accused of cheating, fraud, drug use, alcohol abuse, gambling and sexual misconduct.
Hagel appears to be expanding his concerns beyond the recent problems inside the Air Force’s nuclear missile community. Missileers have been accused of cheating on tests, using drugs, and failing to properly maintain the nation’s arsenal of 450 intercontinental ballistic missiles.
Those incidents prompted Hagel in January to launch a force-wide review of the military’s nuclear enterprise, which also includes the Navy.
The Navy on Feb. 4 acknowledged a cheating scandal at its Nuclear Propulsion School in South Carolina, which so far has implicated at least 30 senior enlisted instructors accused of sharing answer sheets to nuclear qualification tests.
Seemingly unrelated, the Army recently revealed that about 1,200 soldiers — including 200 officers — are implicated in a long-running scheme by National Guard recruiters to fraudulently collect nearly $100 million in recruiting incentive payments.
Yet Hagel believes all the incidents share a common theme of “unethical behavior by people in uniform,” Kirby said.
“Is it a trend? Certainly there’s been a lot of these,” Kirby said. “Is it isolated or systemic? We don’t know and [Hagel] wants to know.”
Military leaders have cited concerned about ethics in recent years, and Hagel supports those efforts.
But Hagel “also believes there must be more urgency behind these efforts and that military leaders and DoD leaders must take a step back and put renewed emphasis on developing more character and moral courage in our force,” Kirby said.
Kirby noted that the problems involve only a small fraction of today’s service memebrs.
Hagel “is mindful that the vast majority serve honorably every day,” Kirby said. “But it doesn’t take more than a few to stain the honor and the integrity of the force and I think that is what we are starting to see here.”