Know your limitations. This applies to every job I have ever held but was especially true when it came to military service. In most jobs, the highest stakes you will face is likely losing your job. In the military, a lot of what you do can have life or death consequences. The outcome will also impact your life and your career. There is a lot of trust, but that trust is always on thin ice and requires the utmost care and consideration. The higher in rank you get, the more responsibility you acquire. It can be a double-edged sword. You need to be able to understand your limitations. You need to understand the rank structure. You need to understand where in the chain you reside. Your place in the pecking order and your previous accomplishments will determine how far outside the box you can go.
It is not enough to be smart. I have met plenty of idiots that had a doctoral degree hanging up on the wall and I have met dropouts that I would follow to the ends of the Earth. I have seen high ranking enlisted members get in trouble for doing things that a lower ranking enlisted member did and got away with. The opposite is also true. Your choices, actions and accomplishments are important, but so is your rank. It is important to learn how to marry the two in a working harmony that allows you to be as effective and efficient as possible. There will be roadblocks and plenty of setbacks. Another member that is the same rank as you might be able to do something that you would get in trouble for. I have seen and experienced it. Multiple times. The only way to know the boundaries are to test them in ways that don’t stick out too far but are able to identify whether or not it is something you can do.
Military rules and regulations, while strict, are not exactly set in stone. All rules or laws will always be open to certain interpretations. As technology advances, as we learn more, as wars and the people fighting in them change, those who don’t adapt, eventually die off. Like many other things, situations not always black and white. Things evolve over time and while the Uniformed Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) almost never changes, times do. Old enemies become friends. Old friends become new enemies. A foe you never expected pops out of nowhere and you are faced with a choice. You can adapt to the new environment, or not.
The longer you are in or the higher your rank will impact how others interpret your words and actions. The better your choices appear to others, over time, adds up. The more trust and respect you earn, the more leeway you get. Just because you are an officer, doesn’t mean you know everything. Just because you are new to the military doesn’t mean you don’t know anything. Your choices, judgements, words, and actions will dictate the leeway you get in making your own decisions. It will ultimately come down to how much faith others have in you and what the results are of the actions you take. Stick to your guns. Ethics and morality don’t always win, but that doesn’t mean you should ever give up on them.