Module 1--Characteristics of Military Culture vs a Civilian Culture


    a.  Strict Hierarchy                          

    b. Orderly and Duty Focused                              

    c.  Tough and Physical                                         

    d.  Values Aggressiveness                                   

    e.  Highly Disciplined                                            

    f.  Controlling/Ignoring Emotions                          

    h.  Values: Integrity and Honor                            

    i.  Reliance on Authority                                        

    j.  Feeling Unsafe                                                 

    k.  Emphasizing Team                                                    




All are equal



Not valuing aggressiveness

Relatively undisciplined

Experience Emotions

Values:  Getting Ahead

Skeptical of Authority

Feeling Safe

Emphasizing Self

 (Military Culture and the Wounds of War by James S. Goalder, PhD, LCP, CH and Major John Bailey, USA, MDIV, BCC-Community Clergy Training National Center of the Department of Veterans Affairs








Kyle J. Cunha & Elizabeth R. Curran

Springfield College Undergraduate Project



Aspects of Military Culture and Life








Hard Work










   Military Culture vs. Civilian Culture


Military Collective                                               Civilian: Individualistic


Part of a tight knit, cohesive group/unit              Emphasis on individual


The unit's goals are always placed                     Self-reliance by western
ahead of one's personal goals                            standards


Emotionally invested in the group/unit

  • In the civilian sector, people's jobs are what they do.  In the military one's job is a profound charaterization of identity among their peers/unit/etc.
  • For both military members and their families, military life provides a great sense of community as well as distinctly structured expectations, rules and guidelines


Military Culture vs. Civilian Culture (con't.)


  • As a civilian, a person's boss has authority over that person while they are at work, but in the military, a service member's boss (commander) has authority over almost all aspects of their life even when the service member has a 'day off.'  Commanders in the military are responsible for their subordinates' conduct on and off duty.  For example a service menbers' commander may be notified if the service member gets drunk, bounces a check, has a fight with their spouse, if their children are going hungry or if they get in trouble with the law.
  • A common saying or mindset in the military is "never assume.  If you dont' know, then ask." Particularly in a combat situation if a service member assumes something and they are wrong, someone very well could be killed.  For example, if the service member assumes that they know where all of their troops are on the battlefield during a firefight but never asks to confirm their troops' actual location, they take a great chance of committing fratricide or engaging their own troops with friendly fire.

Important note: Some veterans and military personnel feel that the only people who will understand them are other veterans/military, especially those who have experienced combat during their military service.  However, this certainly does not mean that all veterans/military feel this way, nor does it mean that veterans/military cannot be helped by people who have not served in the military.


Addressing a Service Member

  • Army = Soldier
  • Navy = Sailor
  • Marine Corps = Marine
  • Air Force = Airman
  • Coast Guard = Coast Guardsman/Gardian 


Officer vs. NCO

Commissioned Officers (O-1 through O-10, 14%): Plan, lead, organize, requires at least a bachelors degree

Warrant Officers (W-1 through W-5 2%): Highly specialized experts in specific fields (i.e., maintenance, aviation, and logistics).

Enlisted (E-1 through E-9, 84%) : Execute assigned tasks given to them by superiors, perform specific duties and job functions.

Non-Commissioned Officers (NCOs): Implement, lead, train/teach (also enlisted, E-4 and above).



Each branch of the United States military has its own set of core values that the members of that branch are expected to live by.  From the first day that a new recruit enters into military service these values are introduced and then taught and enforced on a daily basis.  Though each branch's core values vary slightly, their purposes are the same; to establish a standard of expectations, conduct, and governance over the service member's life.


The military values philosophy is one of many factors that set members of the United States military apart from their civilian counterparts.  These values define how the service members live their lives, make decisions both on and off the battlefield, as well as overcome daily challenges and adversity.  Their pupose is to promote strong character and the increase the morale and welfare of the force.



Military Values (Cont.)


Loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, honor, integrity  and personnal courage (Leadership)


Navy and Marine Corps
Honor, courage and commitment


Air Force
Integrity first, service before self and excellence in all we do


Coast Guard
Honor, respect, and devotion to duty


In addition to the values established by each branch of the military, service members tend to follow and/or live by a few principles or ways of thought (some written, some unwritten):

  • Unit Cohesion -- Much regard and respect for comrade and leadership. Always a desire to contribute to the succes of the mission and unit.


  • Concern for Reputation -- Fear of disappointing and/or breaking the trust of superiors as well as comrades.  Always a desire to contribute to the success of the mission.


  • Never Leave a Man Behind -- That goes for everywhere, whether on the battlefield or at the local bar.


  • Stoicism -- Controlling emotions; the inability to do this could be a sign of weakness. 




Difference between Active Duty, National Guard, and Reserve


Active Duty: Full-time service members in the military who are stationed all around the world.   Service members and their families live on or nearby a military base and may be depolyed or asked to move at any time.


National Guard:  The National Guard is federally funded but is organized and controlled by the state.  It contains part time members who can be deployed overseas if needed, but are usually used for domestic matters.  They are called in to help during natural disasters and emergencies.  It is important to note civilians who provide care/counselling to these individuals should ask about their experiences providing support for domestic crises, such as natural disasters.


Reserve:  Each branch of the military has a Reserve, which contains part-time members who usually serve one weekend a month and two weeks a year.  The Reserve has trained units and qualified people to be available for Active Duty if needed.  The main job of the Reserves is to fill in gaps when Active Duty is deployed overseas.



Potential Sources of Stress in the Military



  • Deploying -- Leaving family, loved ones, children, friends, girl or boy friends, etc.


  • Ultimate Change -- Climate, diet, living arrangements, losing personal freedoms, etc.


  • The Unknown -- Particularly for veterans of the Vietnam War and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, identifying who the actual enemy is on the battlefield can be extremely difficult and sometimes impossible.  Due to the nature of these wars, less conventional when compared to previous conflicts (World Wars I and II for example), it is difficult to separate enemy combatants from the civilian population.  In Iraq and Affghanistan enemy forces or enemy threats can essentially consist of anyone in the general population.  Though most often including military aged males, women, children and the elderly also can and do pose mortal threat.