Esprit de Corps
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Definition : the common spirit existing in the members of a group and inspiring enthusiasm, devotion, and strong regard for the honor of the group. – Merriam-Webster.com Centered on the definition of Esprit de Corps it becomes strikingly obvious that based on the varied tasks and what is being asked of our military men and woman today, it is as important in today’s military as it was through previous generations of the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF). It is widely recognized that we have three generations of current serving members, all with different sets of values and what is important to them, the challenge for leadership becomes the delivery and construction of Esprit de Corps in each and every member.
The military has changed in many ways over the past few generations. The adoption of human rights may have been one of the most influential critical, changing the way troops were being treated overnight. The hardship, and by today’s standards what some would call “mis-treatment” of troops up until that point was status quo, to be expected and seen as normal. The reason troops in the military were able to endure these harsher times, and succeed, for the most part was a strong sense of Esprit de Corps.
In my opinion Esprit de Corps is no less important in today’s military than it was in generations past. The method of delivery and impressing its importance to the newer generations of soldiers becomes the challenge for present day leadership. My observations as a junior leader are that the newer generations of troops have a completely different attitude toward what the military is to them, and what putting the uniform means. The task in instilling a sense of Esprit de Corps in these troops is something that my previous Regiment(Regt) had struggled with, but ultimately found a very simple solution to appeal to the younger generation. It combined a Military History exercise to promote and instill Esprit de Corps, and promoted camaraderie through competition. They devised a booklet of Unit and CF based history questions that each group had to answer.
Splitting the Squadron (Sqn) into groups and small teams, we set them loose in the C&E Branch Museum for a set amount of time where they had to work as a team to answer each question correctly. The first team to answer all questions correctly were awarded one short day of leave by the OC. This simultaneously satisfied the goal to educate the new troops in the history of the Branch and Unit, while promoting teamwork and cohesion with the current members of the Regt. This approach worked well because the newest generation of soldiers have been raised in a needs based society, one where if the situation or problem doesn’t affect them either positively or negatively, they don’t care. They have a “what’s in it for me” attitude, an attitude which has bled into the CF with this new generation. In this example, if there wasn’t the promise of time off as a reward, there wouldn’t have been much interest in completing the task, they probably would have, but without as much thought put forward.
Esprit de Corps is tied very tightly to the morale of a group, but they are separate in their own rights. You can easily have a group or section of troops that are have incredibly high spirits and morale, working together for a common goal, but having very little respect in their unit or belief in what their unit is asking them to do. They would calmly sit by, tight lipped, while another group slanders their own unit. Conversely, having immense respect and pride in what your unit’s history and honours are, does not guarantee good morale. Both esprit de corps and moral are organic, yet intangible ideologies. As the ocean’s tides are guided by the moon, so too are a unit’s morale and esprit de corps guided by it’s leadership and CoC. A keen leader can spot when their troops are lacking the drive and sense of family within their group. Although it is not solely their responsibility to instil a sense of pride and belonging into the group, they have to ensure that it is addressed promptly. The most effective way to encourage esprit de corps is through group competition either within the unit or preferably with a group from outside the unit.
Sports competition is usually the first avenue that comes to mind but that’s not to say it’s the best option. Depending on what your unit specializes in, it may be advantageous to incorporate soldier and trade skills into the competition, such as: recce’s, weapons handling, technical skills like tactical/strategic comms detachment deployment, map product development scenarios, etc. These activities require the coordinated efforts of many individuals working towards a common goal, imparting with them the sense of belonging and pride in their efforts regardless of their outcomes. A soldier’s responsibility towards esprit de corps of their group or unit is tied tightly to their professionalism and core values as a member of the military. Esprit de corps starts at the highest level, being proud to have a red and white flag emblazoned on your left shoulder.
The honour a soldier should feel in wearing their uniform is the basis of everything military. Although times have changed, and not all soldiers, sailors and airmen and women have joined to serve country before one’s self; some in fact have enlisted as a means to an end, something to do until something better comes along. The most challenging result of these individuals being part of the any group is that they don’t believe in the core responsibilities a soldier must embrace to truly be part of the family. Therefore, the responsibility is shared by the other members of the group to express through actions, the values esprit de corps has within any group. The group’s leadership has an obligation to instill good morale and esprit de corps, but a group’ leadership begins at the lowest end. The onus is on everyone in the group to identify any shortfalls both professionally and any deficiency in the groups dynamic such as morale and esprit de corps.