“Hooah! Oorah! HA-OOH! HA-OOH! HA-OOH!” It may collectively all sound a little silly, but the underlying purpose is far more profound. These simple phrases, some new, some ancient, all share a common trait. They are all meant to inspire a sense of brotherly bond and esprit de corps, or “the spirit of the corps.”
In fighting organizations, whether regular organized units, survival groups, or guerrilla partisans resisting “enemies foreign and domestic,” the morale of the unit is almost as important as the combined unit skill sets. A less skilled, equipped unit with a high standard of motivation and sense of purpose can achieve as much as a well equipped, well trained, low morale unit. Throughout history, smaller ill prepared forces with a collective motivating goal have successfully hindered overwhelmingly superior forces that had less than ideal morale.
According to Harvard sociologist Alexander H. Leighton, “Morale is the capacity of a group of people to pull together persistently and consistently in pursuit of a common purpose.”
In military science, there are two meanings to morale. Primarily it means unit cohesion, the cohesion of a unit, task force, or other military group. An army with good supply lines, sound air cover and a clear objective can be said to possess, as a whole, “good morale” or “high morale.”
Historically, elite military units such as Special Operations forces have “high morale” due to both their training and pride in their unit. When a unit’s morale is said to be “depleted,” it means it is close to “crack and surrender.” It is well worth noting that generally speaking, most commanders do not look at the morale of specific individuals but rather the “fighting spirit” of platoons, companies, battalions, divisions, etc.
“Military morale is in a large sense inseparable from civilian morale because each reacts upon the other and both are in large measure based on fidelity to a cause. But there is a certain kind of morale that is distinctly military. It begins with the soldier’s attitude toward duty. It develops with the soldier’s command over himself. It is a spirit that becomes dominant in the individual and also in the group. Whether the soldier has physical comforts or suffers physical hardships may be a factor but is seldom the determining factor in making or unmaking his morale. A cause known and believed in; knowledge that substantial justice governs discipline; the individual’s confidence and pride in himself, his comrades, his leaders; the unit’s pride in its own will; these basic things, supplemented by intelligent welfare and recreation measures and brought to life by a spirit of mutual respect and co-operation, combine to weld a seasoned fighting force capable of defending the nation.”
In August 2012, an article entitled “Army morale declines in survey” states that “only a quarter of the Army’s officers and enlisted soldiers believe the nation’s largest military branch is headed in the right direction.” The “…most common reasons cited for the bleak outlook were ‘ineffective leaders at senior levels,’ a fear of losing the best and the brightest after a decade of war, and the perception, especially among senior enlisted soldiers, that “the Army is too soft” and lacks sufficient discipline.”
Esprit de corps is tied very closely with the British Royal Marines and their American counterpart from across the Atlantic Ocean, the United States Marine Corps. It is not only a phrase that roughly means the morale of the/a unit, but also a core philosophy within the foundation of both organizations.
In the USMC it is a phrase that sits along side the core values Honor, Courage, and Commitment as a living, breathing, entity that is not only the fighting spirit but the pride for the unit, service branch, and country, and the devotion and loyalty to the other members of the unit that the men and women fight and serve with. Within the USMC and the RM there is a special meaning and place in the hearts of the men and women for the phrase esprit de corps.
You can incorporate this into your team training to grow a bond and move from a group of guys going out to shoot, to a group that has a core bond and sense of purpose. Groups generally bond better under a common amount of adversity and overcoming situations as a team. Throwing in tasks that are especially strenuous or team-based challenges on top of the training already in place will help mold the team. It can also give team members a sense of confidence in themselves and the team as a whole that could see them through the first engagement to the next one.
Leaders should pay attention to the morale of their team or unit, as it will affect the overall success of the mission or operation. Leaders also need to be able to inspire and lead from the front, leading by example. You don’t need to have been in a high speed unit to understand this.
Push yourself in your own life and personal training, and it will transmit to your team. If they see you aspiring to excellence they just might start the journey themselves. Once your unit esprit de corps cements itself firmly in your team, it will be a tough nut to crack. Always remember that if your soldiers aren’t complaining about something, then that’s when you have to worry about their morale!