WASHINGTON (AP) - Soldier discipline has deteriorated to the point where it risks becoming "cancerous," a senior Army general said Wednesday.
Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling told a group of reporters over breakfast that only a small percentage of soldiers lack proper discipline, but he stressed his concern that it be fixed, now that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are winding down and more troops are returning to their home bases.
"In some cases there are discipline problems that we have not paid as much attention to as we should," he said, adding, "If you allow that to go unnoticed it becomes cancerous."
Hertling said soldiers need more training in the Army's professional values. And he said officers and commanders are guilty of too frequently overlooking what he called "acts of indiscipline." He cited as an example a failure to adequately punish soldiers for offenses such as drunken driving.
Hertling said that when he arrived in Germany in March to take command of U.S. Army Europe he asked for list of soldiers who had been cited more than once for drunk driving. He declined reveal the number he was given but said he was surprised at how high it was.
"And then when I asked the question, `What has happened to these soldiers?"' the answer was, "Not much," he said.
"If we are going to reduce our Army, and all indicators are that we are, we've got to maintain the very best, and those very best have to be counseled and developed and trained - but they also have to be disciplined," he said.
Hertling's remarks were unusually pointed, although he is not the first senior defense leader to express concern that as soldiers return from combat, where they often were given leeway by commanders, there could be discipline problems at home. Robert Gates raised the issue shortly before he stepped down as defense secretary in June, and the new chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, has noted it.
On his first day in office Oct. 1, Dempsey issued a statement calling on all service members to renew their commitment to professionalism.
"We're not a profession simply because we say we're a profession," Dempsey wrote. "We must continue to learn, to understand and to promote the knowledge, skills, attributes and behaviors that define us as a profession."