The Pentagon said Tuesday it will gather officers at the Air Force Academy next week in a bid to clean up misconduct in the ranks.
The "professionalism summit" is the first of its kind and will bring together about three dozen leaders from across the military to talk about their programs to improve military culture. The goal is to quell sexual assault, toxic leaders, bullying and other issues that have bedeviled the brass for years.
"We're trying to take it up a level and focus on shaping the culture," said Air Force Lt. Col. Kevin Basik, who works in the Pentagon office focused on professionalism.
The Pentagon's latest push for improved behavior began two years ago with the appointment of Basik's boss, Rear Adm. Peg Klein, to lead Defense Department ethics efforts. Each service has since created offices dedicated to professionalism in the ranks. The next step is getting the services to coordinate their work, which is the focus of the three-day academy gathering that begins Monday.
"It takes intentional effort to make sure everyone is talking across service boundaries," said Basik, who worked at the academy before he moved to the Pentagon.
The Pentagon's meeting comes ahead of next week's National Character and Leadership Symposium which starts Thursday, Feb. 26, at the school. In addition to cadets, the symposium will draw hundreds of students and academics from around the country to hear from speakers including Medal of Honor recipients, astronauts, business leaders and an NFL kicker. The theme of the symposium, the 23rd at the academy, is "Professionalism & The Profession of Arms."
Basik said the Pentagon event will focus on ways services can raise the bar for behavior in the ranks. If all troops have a higher level of professionalism, those who don't meet the standards will stand out more clearly, he said.
"It is like weeds being choked out by a healthy lawn," he said.
One of the toughest behavior problems faced by the Pentagon has been sexual misconduct.
A 2014 report on sexual assault in the military, the latest available, showed a 16 percent increase in reported sexual assaults in the ranks. Another troubling statistic showed that more than 60 percent of sexual misconduct victims felt some form of reprisal after coming forward.
Basik said sexual assault will come up in talks at the academy, but the problems the group will try to address are wider.
The goal is to create an environment inside military units where leaders and the troops won't tolerate those who step out of line.
He cited the Army's new "Not in My Squad" program, which focuses on training sergeants how to foster a climate in the Army's smallest units to stop misconduct.
The forum next week will examine that and similar programs from other branches to see what works and how those ideas should be shared.
"Each service has their unique traditions, culture and heritage," Klein, who heads the Pentagon's professionalism office, said in a statement. "But we all share the beliefs that culture is a driver of combat efficiency and that trust is a force multiplier which affects our ability to innovate. The right answers will be a little bit different for each service based on their heritage, but I can't overstate the positive impact of fostering cross-service conversations."
Basik said the Colorado Springs summit could be the start of a larger movement in the military to give the same focus to good behavior that is given to defeating enemies.
"People are hungry for a conversation about how do we translate core values down to the day-to-day life," he said.