Strengthening military discipline and fostering a healthy atmosphere among military personnel

Strengthening military discipline and fostering a healthy atmosphere among military personnel

Viktor Aleksandrovich Batmazov

Military discipline is a daily concern of the military district commander, his deputies, the military council, and unit and formation commanders at all levels in the district. Only a short while ago it was believed that crime, alcohol and drug abuse, suicides and other deviations from social norms were survivals of the distant past and that at a certain point in the development of society they would disappear altogether. Back in the early 20th century, the French sociologist Emile Durkheim came to the conclusion that social deviation, including crime, is a phenomenon which has never been and can never be eliminated altogether in any society. In other words, every society has always had and will continue to have a certain number of individuals who, for various internal or external reasons or a combination of such reasons, tend to violate (to “deviate” from) the established social norms. Society’s most important task is to ensure that social deviations do not reach a critical mass that would endanger its very existence.

A natural question arising in this context is whether this social deviation phenomenon is characteristic of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation? It certainly is, because the armed forces are an integral part of the state and society, and servicemen are a part of the people. First, all the positive and negative behavioral trends and regularities intrinsic to society fully manifest themselves in the behavior of servicemen. Second, the army is one of society’s social organisms which can itself be liable to distortion. Hence the social deviations in the behavior of servicemen. Third, the armed forces with strictly regulated military service are a social institution with its own specific social norms (in addition to those existing in society). In the army, the behavior of servicemen is more tightly regulated compared with other social units and institutions. In view of that, servicemen are more likely to depart from the established norms, since the normative value system of the armed forces allows them a lesser degree of freedom in choosing a line of behavior.

The rate of crime in the area of stationing the troops of the Volga-Urals District unfortunately remains high. The worst situation in this respect is in the Sverdlovsk, Orenburg and Perm regions and in the Republic of Mariy-El. Thus, according to the Main Directorate of Internal Affairs, in 2002 the number of crimes registered in the territory of the Sverdlovsk Region was 90.6 thousand, or 1,987 crimes per 100 thousand people (a reduction of 25%), including 1,188 homicides and 2,722 cases of intentional infliction of grave bodily injury. However, the actual rate of crime is difficult to assess, because an inquiry of the RF Prosecutor General’s Office revealed that a total of 15 thousand offences had not been entered on the records in the Sverdlovsk Region alone. In the territory of the military district there are 336 corrective labor institutions with more than 390 thousand inmates. This leaves an imprint on the rate of crime among the troops stationed in the district.

The problem of recruiting personnel for military service in the district is now very acute. An analysis of the course of conscription campaigns over the past five years shows that from year to year the qualitative characteristics of the draft contingent inducted into the army in the district has not been improving, to put it mildly. The number of draftees raised in incomplete families is quite high (30%), including 26% without a father, 2.5% without a mother, and 1.4% without both parents. Many families fall into the low-income bracket with considerable social and everyday problems and alcohol abuse, so that parents in such families pay little attention to the upbringing of children. Hence the social and pedagogical neglect of this category of servicemen, their alienation from the collective, and their aggressive and unpredictable behavior.

Among the young men drafted into the army in the fall of 2002, 1,571 persons were underweight, 1,503 had to be sent for a psychiatric examination, 553 had been held for questioning by the militia, and 32 had a past record of conviction. Many of the new recruits had not held any job or attended any educational institution before being drafted into the army (1,640 persons), and a considerable number had low general educational standards and moral qualities. Surveys show that up to 40% of all new recruits take a negative view of the prospect of military service.

With due regard for the actual state of affairs and based on past experience, the district military council has developed and put into practice a system of officer activities aimed at strengthening military discipline and preventing fatalities among servicemen. In my view, it not only meets current requirements but is oriented toward the future. The system brings together the activities of servicemen of different categories both by rank and by post. We try to make educational work more flexible and efficient and to forecast the development of the situation in the area of military discipline. The emphasis has been shifted to persuasion, concern for the individual, and incentives to conscientious military work.

In this process, the main efforts of the district command, the district military council, and the commanders and chiefs of educational structures are directed toward creating safe conditions of military service, preventing fatalities among servicemen, excluding theft of arms, ammunition and other public and military property, eradicating bullying and harassment of servicemen, and preventing outrages against the local population.

Since the reestablishment of the Volga-Urals Military District, questions of military discipline have been repeatedly discussed at meetings of the military council with the adoption of concrete decisions. Hearings given by the military district commander (his deputies, chiefs of directorates, services and arms of the services) to commanders of formations (units) lagging in terms of military discipline have become an established practice. Practical assistance is provided to them on site, and measures are being taken to improve the moral and psychological climate among personnel. There is a system for the monthly personal evaluation of the activities of commanding officers in strengthening discipline in units under their command. Special attention is being paid to work among officers as objects and subjects of educational influence. The district military council regularly considers questions relating to the reception, accommodation and assimilation of young officers graduating from institutions of higher education and military academies.

The task we face today is to work out and introduce into the combat training process the most effective and sometimes unconventional forms and methods of maintaining the required standards of personal officer training so as to keep the most promising of them in the Armed Forces. It is also clear that an officer working hard at his professional job simply has no time to commit any offences.

Duly appreciating the vast amount of work being done by the majority of officers, the district military council has been taking concrete measures to stimulate honest and conscientious service. In 2002, 318 officers were given government awards, 3,812 officers were promoted to higher ranks (including 22 accelerated promotions), six officers were given ranks above the post they occupied, and 4,043 conscientious officers were given ranks above the posts by way of career development.

A set of measures adopted jointly with the workers of military courts and military prosecutor’s officers have enabled us to a certain extent to maintain and develop the positive trends and to stabilize the state of military discipline. In 2002, the number of offences among the troops of the district was reduced by 17%, including thefts of military and public property by 39.8%, crimes against civilians by 20.7%, incidents involving the use of equipment by 14.3%, and draft evasion by 4.4%. The rate of crime among officers in the district fell by 29.8%. Positive results have been achieved in suppressing barrack-room hooliganism, with the number of such crimes falling by 19.9%. The number of persons injured as a result of interpersonal conflicts was reduced by 6%.

Despite a reduction in the number of fatalities among servicemen (by 18.8%), this problem is one of the main concerns of the military council. Attacks against servicemen from motives of hooliganism have increased. In 2002, such attacks resulted in the death of 12 persons, including four officers and three ensigns.

In order to prevent such tragedies in the future, the district command has concentrated its efforts on eradicating the causes and conditions that breed fatalities, traumatism and mutilation among servicemen and civilians: commanders at every level have been charged with the task of ensuring effective control over strict compliance by servicemen with safety requirements; prior to the start of each training period, field exercise or performance of fatigue duty or other works, personnel are given practical training where they are taught to observe safety requirements with a simulation of the possible consequences of their violation; the conditions of storage and issue of toxic and process liquids and narcotic substances have been brought into line with the requirements of regulatory documents; massive inspections are held every month to verify compliance with the rules and observance of legality in the use of motor vehicles in the garrisons, contacts have been established between the district agencies of the Military Motor Vehicle Inspectorate and the State Traffic Safety Inspectorate; the district command has established close ties with the regional administrations, local organs of power and territorial agencies of the RF Ministry of Internal Affairs in order to prevent criminal assaults against servicemen. Overall, a systematized package of measures is being put into effect to safeguard human life and health.

In order to improve the quality of work in strengthening military discipline, it is planned to address to following tasks.

First, to enhance the personal influence of commanding officers at every level on the processes underway in military collectives and to encourage them to make a self-critical assessment of the results of their work. We also have to prevent an artificial division of the single process of training and education. Life has made it clear that training and education are closely linked with each other and that their separation is highly unnatural. The attempts by some shortsighted commanders to confine themselves to training and to leave education to officers of educational structures have met with a resolute rebuff. A “fragmentation” of the single training and educational system into spheres of influence cannot lead to success either in training or in education.

Second, to teach commanders, staffs and personnel of educational structures how to make a timely and correct assessment of the situation and make the necessary adjustments to their style of work without delay.

Third, to achieve a qualitative improvement in the training and education of officers, especially in the company-regiment echelon.

Fourth, to upgrade and make wider use of the system of moral and material incentives to conscientious military work.

Fifth, to enhance the effectiveness of individual educational work among various categories of servicemen, and also of preventive work among persons inclined to commit offences.

Military discipline is one of the main factors determining the army’s combat readiness and combat efficiency. This truth has stood the test of history on many occasions. It is no accident that military leaders and commanders have always regarded a tightening of discipline among the troops as a task of paramount importance. Our great compatriot A.V. Suvorov called discipline “the mother of victory.”

The army is known to be a “reduced copy” of the social and state system. In the conditions of transformation of Russian society, the military organization is also going through a complicated process of reform, and all the contradictory social processes are mirrored in the development of the Armed Forces and in their new recruits. Thus, the Leningrad Military District authorities have recorded a steady increase in the number of recruits with impaired health (9.08% in the spring draft of 2002, 11.7% in the autumn draft of 2002) and with a low level of mental stability (7.47% in the spring draft of 2002, 14.8% in the autumn draft of 2002). Around 20% of soldiers and sergeants had not held any job or attended any educational institution before being drafted into the Armed Forces, up to 80% of all draftees had no motivation for military service, and 4.5% of all young men recruited for military service in the district in the autumn of 2002 had a past record of conviction (compared with 0.17% in the spring of 2002).

A preliminary examination of young men arriving for service in the district in the spring of 2003 confirms the steady trend toward an increase in aggressiveness and animosity among the young. At the same time, there has been no decline in the number of draftees (usually from single-parent families) physically and morally unprepared to cope with everyday difficulties and to live on their own among young people of the same age many of whom have had a “criminal” schooling.

All of that, and also the complicated socioeconomic and criminal situation in the North Western region are hardly conducive to the achievement of stable positive results in the work to strengthen military discipline and law and order. However, as the record of leading units and formations in the district shows, the specific organization of military service and tight control over compliance with the daily routine and regulation requirements helps to make the situation in military units sufficiently self-contained and to create conditions for the healthy education of young men against the background of far from simple social processes.

The main efforts of the district command and the district military council in the work being done to maintain military discipline and law and order, improve military service and ensure its safety are designed to upgrade the system of activities by military command and control agencies at every level in fulfilling the requirements of military service regulations, ensuring proper living and training conditions for personnel, organizing guard duty and administration within the unit, ensuring reliable protection and defense of military facilities and property, and maintaining procedures laid down by regulations.

This system makes it possible to pool the efforts and coordinate the participation of commanders, staffs and educational and military justice agencies in consolidating military collectives, eradicating crimes and other offences resulting in fatalities and traumatism among personnel, and preventing breaches of regulations in relations between servicemen, absence without leave, suicidal behavior, theft of arms and ammunition, and misappropriation of financial and material resources. The main emphasis is made on persuasion, concern and encouragement of conscientious military work. The need for such an approach to the problem of strengthening military discipline and law and order is dictated by the very course of events and by the nature of the tasks addressed by the military district.

In order to maintain a stable moral and psychological climate among personnel and tight military discipline, the district’s military command and control agencies, commanders, staffs and educational agencies have carried out in 2003 a complex of organizational and educational measures:

* an operational-mobilization assembly of district command staff with the participation of the chiefs of cooperating formations, Air Force and Air Defense formations, the Leningrad Naval Base, the Northern and Baltic fleets, the Ministry for Emergency Situations, the North Western District of the Internal Troops of the RF Ministry of Internal Affairs and other forces considered a wide range of practical issues relating to the problem of maintaining high morale and tight military discipline. Training aids in educational problems and military discipline developed by the district directorate for educational work were issued to the assembly participants;

* meetings of the military council have repeatedly examined matters relating to the state of military discipline, law and order, educational work and morale among all categories of servicemen in the military district, with concrete decisions taken on the results of these examinations;

* an algorithm for the operation of district directorates, services and departments in maintaining military discipline and law and order in the military formations, units and institutions has been developed and is being put into effect in the district;

* a model week for the activities of the command of a brigade (District Training Center), a regiment (Military Equipment Storage Depot) and their equivalents in maintaining military discipline and law and order is being introduced in the current academic year;

* coordinating conferences of the heads of law enforcement agencies and the district command, Air Force and Air Defense formations, the Leningrad Naval Base, the North Western District of the Internal Troops of the RF Ministry of Internal Affairs and other “power departments” of the North Western region have discussed urgent problems in improving the work being done to prevent thefts of arms and ammunition and to check the spread of narcotic and psychoactive drugs among personnel;

* systematic work is being carried on by the psychological service jointly with the medicopsychological correction room of the psychiatric center of the district military clinical hospital in studying the process of psychological adaptation of new recruits to the conditions of military service. Such work is carried on, first and foremost, in permanent-readiness units and formations;

* in the course of the 2003 spring draft, further steps were taken to form units on the “fellow townsman” principle (five such companies and seven platoons have been established in the district). These units are manned by servicemen drafted from towns and areas after which the various units have been named;

* the results of the efforts to strengthen military discipline and law and order in the military units and formations are summed up every month with the participation of district command staff. This is preceded by anonymous questionnaire surveys and polls of personnel designed to detect and promptly eliminate any shortcomings that have a negative influence on the moral climate in the military units;

* the results of a monthly analysis of the state of military discipline and law and order are used to determine the companies (batteries) and platoons with the worst discipline status;

* the monthly supplement Orientir to the district newspaper Na Strazhe Rodiny, and also its weekly issues carry items on matters of military discipline and law and order, speeches by the district military prosecutor and other heads of the region’s law enforcement agencies. One should note that the district newspaper publishes the numbers of the telephone helpline service run by the district educational directorate and military prosecutor’s office in order to help servicemen in cases of moral harassment or physical assault on the part of their fellow servicemen or commanding officers;

* in order to improve morale among servicemen and provide social protection for the families of servicemen who were injured or lost their lives in the performance of their military duty, the district command spent over 2 million rubles (as of July 2003);

* a system of weekly personal evaluation of the effectiveness of the activities of command and control personnel in resolving problems of military discipline is in operation in the district. Letters addressed by the district commander and the district military council to the commanders of units and formations lagging in terms of military discipline are also part of established practice.

All these measure have made it possible to reduce the overall rate of crime in the military district by 21.7% compared with the same period of 2002, including offences connected with draft evasion by 45.9%, outrages against the local population by 16.7%, and abuse of power by 2.2 times. The number of offenders has gone down by 34.2%. An absolute majority of military collectives in the district perform their training and combat missions and carry on their daily activities without any crimes or incidents.

At the same time, the tasks in preventing crimes and incidents, fatalities and casualties among personnel formulated by the RF defense minister, the commander-in-chief of the Land Forces and the military district commander have not been fulfilled in full volume in the Leningrad Military District in the current year. The “Achilles heel” here is still the inadequate level of activities aimed at preventing breaches of regulations in relations between servicemen. Facts of crimes and other offences of this kind have even been recorded among officers.

The pivotal element of all the work being done to strengthen military discipline and law and order is the officer corps of command and control agencies. The effectiveness of an officer’s work should not be judged on the strength of how many and what kind of facts he has “brought to light” in a given military unit, but on the strength of what he has personally done to remedy the shortcomings and, most importantly, to prevent negative phenomena. The main emphasis should be on concrete organizational work in the units (subunits). Meanwhile, as practical work among the troops shows, even senior officers with a long record of service in the army are often unskilled in the techniques of leadership, do not know how to establish normal relations in the collective, and have a vague idea of how to address a given educational task. This is probably the main reason for the lack of proper order and discipline in the lagging military units.

So, among the numerous tasks in the field of strengthening discipline special attention should, in my view, be given to the following: first, training and education of educators (subordinate generals and officers); and second, conversion of the company (battery) into a center for individual educational work among servicemen with the participation of commanders at every level.

Work among servicemen also calls for a differentiated approach with due regard for the training standards of subordinates and the influence exerted on them by processes connected with the rotation of officer personnel. As analysis shows, many of our deficiencies are due to the lack of sufficient reserves for the appointment of officers and ensigns to vacant positions, and also to the low theoretical and practical training standards of command personnel, primarily in the company and battalion echelon. This is confirmed by figures. Thus, 12.2% of officer posts (including 19.2% of initial posts) and 25.9% of ensign posts in the military district remain vacant.

The problem of filling vacant positions of training officers remains acute: today only 76.2% of these are actually filled, including 73.4% of the posts of deputy commanders of companies (batteries) for educational work. In addition, 59.1% of initial posts in the district’s educational structures are filled by officers who graduated from civilian institutions of higher education and were drafted into the Armed Forces from the reserve for two years, which means they have a poor knowledge of the specifics of military service and no practical experience in educating military personnel. Unfortunately, some officers of military command and control agencies are just as unskilled in the techniques of organizing educational work in the company (battery). They merely seek to uncover negative phenomena, but are not insistent enough in their elimination, often simply because they do not now how to do this. All this calls for the development of a definite system for training officers assigned to inspect and assist military units.

The success of the educational impact on every aspect of servicemen’s life depends in large part on noncommissioned officers (sergeants), the most numerous contingent of commanders. They are always in contact with the soldiers and have a direct influence on them. Most sergeants receive initial training in training units. Unfortunately, it sometimes proves to be ineffective. Some graduates of training units are insufficiently prepared to perform all their functional duties and to maintain military discipline among their subordinates. Moreover, they may themselves become the target of criminal attacks.

Today officials at every level are faced with an important task: to ensure that the transition to voluntary enlistment begins with the formation of a full-fledged corps of sergeants serving under contract who would be truly professional commanders and tutors of rank and file personnel. For this purpose, as I see it, we have to make adjustments to the system of selection and training of junior command personnel (NCOs) from among servicemen drafted into the Armed Forces.

Evidently, we have to change the procedure for manning training units. Candidates selected by military registration and enlistment offices should first be dispatched to conventional military units to take a course of initial soldier training. That period should be used to study their individual qualities and examine their state of health. Once they have completed the course of initial soldier training, candidates for specialized training units will be selected by a specially established commission and approved by the commander of the regiment (separate battalion). Servicemen sent for training must remain on the roll of their own unit and upon the completion of their training must return to their initial duty station. This will induce the commanders of military units to monitor the quality of the selection and training of their future junior command personnel at training centers.

The efforts to maintain high professional standards among sergeants would undoubtedly be promoted by a procedure under which graduates of higher educational institutions trained at the military departments of these institutions would be awarded the rank of officer after at least six months of service in the post of junior commander. In this case, they would continue service as full-fledged officers. Another measure that could enhance the prestige of sergeants is to introduce a rule under which the rank of sergeant would be awarded exclusively to those holding the posts of squad leaders, crew captains, detachment commanders and their equivalents, and also to expand the disciplinary rights of sergeants, including the right to grant additional days of leave to subordinates. Guarantees of entry into a higher military educational institution given to servicemen with at least three years of irreproachable service under contract in a sergeant’s post in the Armed Forces could also have a positive effect.

The emphasis in the efforts to strengthen military discipline and law and order should be shifted to the prevention of offences. This is the shortest way leading to a radical improvement in military discipline. It is not enough to hold a conference or issue an order to punish the guilty parties. Practical work is known to include a wide range of educational and organizational measures aimed at eliminating the prerequisites to breaches of laws and regulations. What we need is persevering, painstaking and active day-to-day work among the personnel. Since this kind of work is not always conducted on a proper professional level, the results leave much to be desired.

This applies, first and foremost, to the work being done to prevent breaches of regulations (hazing) in relations between servicemen in the military units.

Analysis shows that offences of this kind are acquiring an ever more secretive, persistent and dangerous character. The first thing to do here is to give each serviceman a sense of confidence that his commander is always ready to safeguard his legitimate interests and is sincere in his efforts to protect the honor and dignity of his subordinates. Unfortunately, some officers still seem to be unaware of the pernicious effect of hazing, although most of them realize the danger of such abnormal behavior and seek to foster compliance with regulations in the soldiers’ barracks. Some officers, especially in the lower echelons, see the depressing state of affairs, but do not know how to change it and, for fear of showing their ineptitude, try to conceal this evil from their superiors. Some officers have no notion of what is going on in their subordinate units, and when things finally come out into the open, this is a complete surprise to them. There are also officers who, because of their professional incompetence and shortsightedness, believe that hazing is “admissible within certain limits” (in order to “educate the young”). Naturally, facts of hazing are no secret to anyone in the units, and indifference to this evil on the part of some commanders has an adverse effect on the moral climate in the military collective.

So, the solution of the problem of hazing, just as of many other problems in work among personnel, depends in large measure on the training and education of officers. Naturally, one should also take into account the quality of the draft contingent and the rapid rotation of soldiers and sergeants in each unit. But the main thing is the attitude of commanders and education officers to the job entrusted to them.

The concept of “military discipline,” as we know, includes the requirement of compliance with laws. So, each offence must be investigated, and the guilty parties must be brought to punishment. That is an axiom. At the same time, the experience of officers in command of leading military units in the Leningrad Military District shows very well that punitive measures alone are not enough. That is why tighter military discipline and a healthy climate in military collectives is seen by the district military council as the result of comprehensive, all-round influence on servicemen of all categories.

In today’s conditions, the main instrument in ensuring law and order among the troops is legal education of servicemen. It represents a purposeful, systematic influence on the consciousness, senses and mentality of people with the aim of forming stable and profound legal notions, convictions and feelings, fostering high standards of legal culture, and cultivating skills and habits of behavior prescribed by regulations.

The main task of legal education is to ensure that servicemen have a good knowledge of the Constitution of the Russian Federation and Federal laws, the military oath, service regulations and the requirements of other normative legal acts, that they should behave in strict compliance with these documents and take an active part in their implementation. Military practice shows that legal training as a required subject of combat (officer) training should be the main form of legal education, since a study of the rules of law solely as part of general social science studies is clearly not enough. In my view, the introduction of a new educational subject will enable every serviceman to master the required legal minimum and to study all the regulatory documents in accordance with the post he occupies.

At the same time, legal knowledge alone will not solve the problem of maintaining military discipline and law and order. To achieve tangible results, command personnel will also require training in the field of criminology. As practice shows, it is sometimes impossible to prevent crimes and other offences because officers are unable to analyze the situation in the units and subunits, to forecast illegal behavior in subordinate military collectives, to bring out the causes of such behavior and, most important of all, to take preventive measures. Accordingly, a study of these questions must be included in legal training programs for trainees and students of higher educational institutions and for the command personnel of military units and subunits.

Within the framework of a single article it is impossible to examine or even to outline all the problems whose solution provides the key to military discipline and good organization in units and formations, and ultimately to the combat readiness of the modern Russian Army. Hopefully, the discussion on this highly important topic will be continued on the pages of this journal.

Maj. Gen. V.A. BATMAZOV *

Deputy Commander of the Volga-Urals Military District for Educational Work

Maj. Gen. R.Sh. NEKHAI

Deputy Commander of the Leningrad Military District for Educational Work

* Viktor Aleksandrovich BATMAZOV was born on 8 April, 1955, in the city of Sverdlovsk. Graduated from the Sverdlovsk Higher Military Political Tank Artillery School (1976) and the V.I. Lenin Military Political Academy (1986). Entered military service in the Siberian Military District as deputy company commander for political affairs, assistant chief of the political department for Komsomol work, and deputy missile battalion commander for political affairs, and then served in the Volga Military District as deputy artillery regiment commander for political affairs. In 1990 he became chief of the political department, from 1991 to 1995 served as deputy formation commander for educational work, and in 1995 was appointed head of the educational directorate of the Urals Military District.

Since December 2002, he has held the post of deputy commander of the Volga-Urals Military District for educational work and directorate head.

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