Warrior Ethos: The Key to Winning

Warrior Ethos: The Key to Winning

Salvatore F. Cambria

“Through all this welter of change and development, your mission remains fixed, determined, inviolable. It is to win our wars. Everything else in your professional career is but corollary to this vital dedication. All other public purpose, all other public projects, all other public needs, great or small, will find others for their accomplishments; but you are the ones who are trained to fight.”

General Douglas MacArthur, Speech to West Point Cadets, 1962

The armed forces of the United States exist for the sole purpose of fighting and winning the nation’s wars. To fight those wars, an effective military force depends on weapons, equipment and personnel. But intangible factors — unit cohesion, integrity, physical and moral courage, dedication, commitment, and leadership — are equally vital because they make up the “warrior ethos.” Without the material factors, we cannot fight. Without the warrior ethos, we cannot win.

Army Field Manual 22-100, Army Leadership, defines the warrior ethos as the professional attitudes and beliefs that characterize the American soldier. The Army has forged the warrior ethos on training grounds from Valley Forge to the combat training centers. The warrior ethos has been honed by the realities of battle at Bunker Hill, San Juan Hill, the Meuse-Argonne, Omaha Beach, Pork Chop Hill, the Ia Drang Valley, Salinas Airfield and the Battle of 73 Easting. Developed through discipline, commitment to Army values, and knowledge of the Army’s proud heritage, the warrior ethos echoes through the precepts in the Code of Conduct, showing us that military service is more than a job. Winning the nation’s wars calls for total commitment, and the core of the warrior ethos is the refusal to accept failure.

The SF soldier

U.S. Army Special Forces is a brotherhood of warriors who are bound by their dedication to mission accomplishment, by their loyalty to one another, and by their moral and physical courage. Regardless of the theater of operations, the mission or the resources available, our warrior ethos is embedded in everything we do.

SF must never forget that quality soldiers are its greatest asset. People, not equipment, are critical. The most sophisticated equipment in the world cannot compensate for the lack of the right people. On the other hand, the right people, highly trained and working as a team, will accomplish the mission with whatever equipment is available to them. Through the process of selecting and retaining quality soldiers who have demonstrated exceptional maturity, skill and initiative, SF is able to meet challenges across a broad spectrum of mission requirements.

Volunteers for SF units must have first demonstrated their maturity, intelligence, combat skills and physical toughness in their parent units and then complete the SF Assessment and Selection process. Through this extensive and rigorous process, SF identifies soldiers who are capable of working under the most demanding and stressful conditions, including situations in which the reputation of the U.S. may depend upon the success of an assigned mission.

The desire to become part of a unique military organization that has demanding, uncompromising standards and challenging missions speaks volumes about the character of the soldiers who volunteer for SF. Character is the inner strength and the commitment that inspire one to do what is right, regardless of the operational environment or the circumstances. Character is demonstrated by behavior. SF soldiers must be prepared to deploy to remote regions of the world under the most sensitive political, economic and military conditions. And although SF soldiers often have extraordinary responsibilities, we are fully confident that in all circumstances, they will follow their best judgment regardless of the consequences.

In “A Soldier and His Conscience,” General Sir James Glover writes, “A man of character in peace is a man of courage in war. Character is a habit. The daily choice of right and wrong. It is a moral quality which grows to maturity in peace and is not suddenly developed in war.” [1]

The human dimension is central in war. War is a clash of human wills; it is shaped by the complexities, inconsistencies and peculiarities of human behavior. No degree of technology can overcome the human dimension of war. Any attempt to reduce warfare to ratios of forces, weapons and equipment neglects the impact of the human will on the conduct of war and is thus inherently flawed. Because of its human dimension, war is an extreme trial of a soldier’s warrior ethos. Individuals react differently to the stress of war — an act that may break the will of one may in fact strengthen the resolve of another.

Unit cohesion

SF soldiers must be dedicated to fighting and winning under the most arduous conditions, and they must always maintain their will to win at the highest level. Whether in personal or professional matters, SF soldiers possess a fierce loyalty to their comrades that is unsurpassed in any other community. Teammates work closely with one another every day. Their faith and confidence in each other is a fraternal bond that is developed through rigorous training, challenging deployments, and personal hardships. The courage of one SF soldier, Master Sergeant Charles E. Hosking Jr., clearly illustrates the strength of SF loyalty.

Hosking was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for his heroic actions on March 21, 1967, in Phuoc Long Province, Republic of Vietnam, while he was serving as a company adviser in the Civilian Irregular Defense Group Reaction Battalion. His award citation reads:

A Viet Cong suspect was apprehended and subsequently identified as a Viet Cong sniper. While Master Sergeant Hosking was preparing the prisoner for movement back to the base camp, he suddenly grabbed a grenade from Master Sergeant Hosking’s belt, armed the grenade and started running toward the command group. With utter disregard for his own personal safety, Master Sergeant Hosking grasped the Viet Cong in a bear hug, forced the grenade against the enemy’s chest, and wrestled the prisoner to the ground. Covering the sniper’s body with his own until the grenade detonated, Master Sergeant Hosking was killed. By absorbing the force of the exploding grenade with his body and that of the enemy, he saved the other members of his command from death or serious injury. [2]


Integrity provides the basis for the trust and the confidence that must exist between SF soldiers. Integrity is sincerity, adherence to a moral code, and the avoidance of deception or expedient compromises. Integrity underlies everything that SF soldiers do; it demands a commitment to the other components of the warrior ethos.

SF soldiers demand integrity from their subordinates, peers and superiors alike. Each SF soldier must therefore internalize and demonstrate integrity. There can be no inconsistency between personal and professional standards. If an SF soldier compromises his personal integrity, he breaks the bonds of trust with his fellow soldiers and with his leaders. Once these bonds are broken, the warrior ethos is weakened, and the SF soldier may be rendered ineffective.

A samurai warrior once wrote, “No matter how lacking a man may be in humanity, if he would be a warrior, he should first of all tell no lies. It is also basic that he be not the least bit suspicious, that he know a sense of shame. The reason being that when a man who has formerly told lies and acted suspiciously participates in some great event, he will be pointed at behind his back and neither his allies nor his enemies will believe him, regardless of how reasonable his words may be. One should be very prudent about this.” [3]

In our profession, we are actively engaged on a daily basis with foreign militaries and heads of state, U.S. ambassadors and U.S. country teams, the joint staff, geographic commanders in chief and special-operations commands, the warfighting corps, and other U.S. agencies and service components. We cannot afford a breach of integrity.


War is characterized by the interaction of physical forces and moral forces. The physical forces are generally easily seen, understood and measured. However, the moral forces are less tangible. Moral forces are difficult to grasp; in fact, it is virtually impossible to quantify emotion, fear, courage, morale, leadership or esprit. Yet moral forces exert a greater influence on the nature and the outcome of war than do the physical forces. But we cannot slight the importance of physical forces, for they can have a significant impact upon moral forces. For example, the greatest effect of fires on the enemy is generally not the amount of physical destruction, but the impact of that physical destruction upon the enemy’s moral strength.

Physical courage and moral courage, synonymous with the warrior ethos, require a synergistic balance in order to maximize their effect. Physical courage is demonstrated by acts of bravery Part of being a warrior is possessing the innate ability to set aside one’s fear of death and to concentrate on the task at hand. Twenty-two ARSOF soldiers have received the Medal of Honor for conspicuous gallantry in action, at the risk of life above and beyond the call of duty. The number of undocumented cases would probably fill volumes.

Fear and physical courage alike are contagious. Brigadier General S.L.A. Marshall said, “The courage of any one man reflects in some degree the courage of all those who are within his vision. To the man who is in terror and bordering on panic, no influence can be more steadying than that of seeing some other man near him who is retaining self-control and doing his duty.” [4] The cohesion of the SF organizational structure, along with the faith, respect and confidence that SF soldiers have in each other, promotes an environment that is conducive to building courageous attributes.

Carl von Clausewitz said, “Courage is of two kinds: courage in the face of personal danger, and courage to accept responsibility, either before the tribunal of some outside power or before the court of one’s own conscience.” [5]

Combat situations that demand physical courage are infrequent, but everyday situations that require moral courage are plentiful. Moral courage is the willingness to stand firm on one’s values, principles and convictions. It is as much a part of the warrior ethos as physical courage. Wise SF leaders appreciate and welcome candor from the ranks. SF leaders expect SF warriors to stand up for what they believe is right, and they expect them to accept responsibility for their actions. As strategic assets deployed along the operational continuum in a global environment in support of national objectives, SF soldiers should exhibit the highest levels of personal and moral courage.

Dedication and commitment

Dedication and commitment are hallmarks of the warrior ethos. SF soldiers are dedicated and committed to upholding a standard of excellence that demands the best of their abilities. The SF warrior is dedicated to duty, honor and country and is committed to the mission and to his comrades. The warrior spirit has always been and shall always be an integral part of the SF culture.

German Major General Hasso von Manteuffel said, “Our honour lies in doing our duty toward our people and our fatherland as well as in the consciousness of our mutual obligation to keep faith with one another, so we can depend on each other. We must remember that, even in our technological age, it is a man’s fighting spirit that ultimately decides between victory and defeat.” [6]

Commitment is also the act of dedicating oneself to seeing every task to completion and serving the values of the country, the Army and SF. SF soldiers are members of a team that functions well only when each member of the team accomplishes his individual assignment.


It is critical that SF leaders be committed to doing their best to contribute to the Army, to train and develop their units, and to help their soldiers develop professionally and personally. The warrior spirit comes from SF leaders who are dedicated and committed to developing the will to fight and win through realistic and challenging training. SF soldiers who can overcome the physical factors of battle and who can apply the skill and knowledge they learned in training can overcome any opponent in combat. SF leaders can give their soldiers the will to win by setting the example, demonstrating the attitudes, establishing the expectations, and enforcing the standards. They can and must develop the will to win in themselves and in their soldiers.

Urbanization challenge

Since the end of the Cold War, the U.S. armed forces and their leadership have been contemplating the kind of force structure that will be required in an ever-changing, uncertain world. Will our nation’s next war be waged on open deserts where there are relatively clear battle lines and where conventional maneuvers can be decisive? While the possibility certainly exists, it is more likely that our forces will be fighting future battles amid city walls, housing areas, complex road networks and a myriad of other supporting infrastructure associated with urbanization.

By the year 2010, the world’s population — currently nearly six billion people — is expected to exceed seven billion. Of that population, approximately half will live in cities; only one-third of today’s population does. [7] To make matters worse, approximately 95 percent of the population growth is expected to occur in developing countries, which are already facing financial hardship.

Urbanization places an enormous demand on a country’s infrastructure, and it can diminish a country’s ability to supply water, energy housing and transportation. When a country is so weak that it cannot adequately supply basic human needs, its people will inevitably lose faith and confidence in it, and they may express their dissatisfaction through violent means. Because our National Military Strategy emphasizes “engagement” as a means of providing global leadership, maintaining stability and promoting democratic ideals, our armed forces are likely to encounter conflict in urbanized areas.


One of the steps the U.S. Army Special Forces Command has taken to prepare its soldiers for urban combat is to develop the Special Forces Advanced Urban Combat Course, or SFAUCC. This course prepares SF A-detachments to conduct an urban assault on a single-story single-entry building consisting of several rooms. Soldiers gain skills from the SFAUCC that are applicable in a variety of SF missions, including direct action, special reconnaissance, foreign internal defense, counterproliferation and combating terrorism. It is important to note that the SFAUCC is designed to train detachment collective tasks, not individual tasks.

The SFAUCC’s program of instruction, or POI, includes 34 hours of combat marksmanship, 60 hours of advanced urban combat and 26 hours of general subjects. The combat-marksmanship segment provides extensive instruction on target engagement in an urban environment. Students gain proficiency in firing the M-9 pistol, the M-4 carbine and the shotgun. During the advanced urban combat segment, students conduct an urban raid and clear a single-room building, employing the shotgnn as an alternate breaching device, and employing special explosives for urban combat. The general-subjects segment enhances the soldiers’ ability to interdict designated targets. It includes planning; collecting information and fulfilling priority intelligence requirements; conducting individual searches; managing risk; running vehicle checkpoints; and climbing various types of structures.

Ten detachments from the 7th SF Group recently completed the SFAUCC’s first and second iterations. The end-of-course critiques express the heightened morale as well as the warrior spirit among the graduates: “Without a doubt, the SFAUCC was the best training I have received in 17 years in the Army and 10 years in Special Forces” “In over 17 years in the Army, I have attended many courses (U.S. and foreign), some hooah, some not. This course was by far the best.” “It is what I came into Special Forces to do — be a warrior.”

During each course’s numerous high-risk, live-fire maneuvers, students fired 110,000 rounds of 9-mm ammunition, 100,000 rounds of 5.56-mm ammunition, 1,375 shotgun shells, and more than 4,000 feet of shock tube. The experienced and highly skilled cadre, combined with an attentive and eager student body, produced realistic, interactive and challenging training that accurately simulates urban-combat scenarios.

Although the skills that the students acquired from the SFAUCC are important, the importance of the warrior spirit displayed by the students cannot be overstated. Without a doubt, the SFAUCC prepares SF detachments to meet the challenges of urban combat, and it gives them the confidence to lethally and discriminately engage any adversary Sun Tzu says that the ancient Chinese described a clever fighter as one who not only wins, but who excels in winning with ease. [8]


Since the end of the Cold War, regional instability has been the greatest threat to global security; in the future, this threat will grow, not diminish. As the U.S. and other countries face new challenges, SF will play an active role in maintaining regional stability and in deterring war.

But if deterrence should fall and our country calls on SF to help fight and win its wars, we will prevail because we will accept nothing less than victory As General of the Army Douglas MacArthur said, “It is fatal to enter any war without the will to win it.” [9]

Our warrior ethos is at the heart of our most valuable resource — quality soldiers. Preparing these soldiers through challenging and realistic training has always served SF well, and it will be our recipe for success in the future. The SFAUCC is the most recent example of such training. Not only does the SFAUCC hone soldiers’ ability to engage adversaries in an urban environment — it nurtures the warrior spirit that motivates SF to focus on the U.S. military’s core mission: to fight and win the nation’s wars.

Colonel Salvatore F. Cambria is commander of the 7th SF Group. His other assignments include rifle platoon leader, mortar platoon leader and company executive officer in the 24th Infantry Division; A-detachment commander in the 10th SF Group; assistant S-3, company commander and battalion executive officer in the 8th Battalion, 2nd Infantry Training Brigade; operations officer and chief of current operations in the 1st Special Operations Command; policy and strategy officer in the U.S. Special Operations Command; commander of the Support Battalion, 1st Special Warfare Training Group; G3 of the U.S. Army SF Command; and speechwriter/strategic analyst for the deputy chief of staff for operations, U.S. Army. Colonel Cambria is a graduate of the Infantry Officer Basic and Advanced courses, the SF Qualification Course, the Army Command and General Staff College, the Armed Forces Staff College and the Air War College. He holds a bachelor’s degree in biology from Northeastern University, Boston, Mass., and a master ‘s degree in business from Webster University.

Lieutenant Colonel Edward M. Reeder is the deputy commander of the 7th SF Group. Commissioned through ROTC as an Infantry officer, he has served as an SF detachment commander, company commander, battalion S3, group S3, and group XO in the 7th SF Group. He also served as an adviser in El Salvador, as an operations officer in the Joint Special Operations Command, and as chief of J3 plans in the Joint Interagency Task Force-South. Lieutenant Colonel Reeder is a graduate of the Infantry Officer Basic and Advanced courses and the Army Command and General Staff College. He holds a bachelor’s degree from Appalachian State University and a master’s degree from Central Michigan University.

Major James E. Kraft is the executive officer for the 7th SF Group. Commissioned through ROTC as an Infantry officer, he has served as an SF detachment commander and has commanded three companies in the 7th SF Group. He has also served as a JCS intern in the Special Operations Division and as a special-operations personnel systems and staff officer in the Army Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff for Personnel. He holds a bachelor’s degree in general studies and law enforcement; and a master’s degree in national security and strategic studies from the Naval War College.


(1.) General Sir James Glover, “A Soldier and His Conscience,” Parameters, September 1983, pp. 53-58.

(2.) USSOCOM Public Affairs Office, Special Operations Recipients of the Medal of Honor and the Victoria Cross (MacDill AFB, Fla.: U.S. Special Operations Command), p. 64.

(3.) Soterki Waki ideals of the Samurai: Writings of Japanese Warriors, translation and introduction by William Scott Wilson, edited by Gregory N. Lee (Burbank, Calif.: Ohara Publications, 1982).

(4.)Brigadier General S.L.A. Marshall, The Armed Forces Officer (Washington, D.C.: Department of Defense, 1950).

(5.) Carl von Clausewitz, On War, translated by Michael Howard and Peter Paret (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1976).

(6.) Major General Hasso von Manteufflel, as quoted in Friedrich Wilhelm von Mellenthin, German Generals of World War II: As I Saw Them (Norman, Okla University of Oklahoma Press, 1977).

(7.) Remarks by John Gannon, Chairman of the National Intelligence Council, to the Washington International Corporate Circle, 31 October 1997, “Global Economic Intelligence.”

(8.) http://classics.mit.edu/Tzu/artwar.html.

(9.) General of the Army Douglas MacArthur, Address to the Republican National Convention, 7 July 1952.

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