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Code of Honor

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 Code of Honor

8 May 1998

SUBJECT: Information Paper on "Honor" – A Bedrock of US Military Leadership

1. Why have an honor code?

a. In professions such as the US military where life is endangered by virtue of the institution's purpose, trust becomes sacred and integrity becomes a requisite quality for each professional. An military officer who is not trustworthy cannot be tolerated; in some professions the cost of dishonesty is measured in dollars – in the US Army, the cost is measured in human lives. The ability of West Point to educate, train and inspire outstanding leaders of character for our US Army is predicated upon the functional necessity of honesty. In short, United States Military Academy expects its graduates and cadets to commit to a lifetime of honorable living.

b. In order to foster a genuine commitment to honorable living, United States Military Academy maintains Honor as a fundamental value. This value is operationalized through the Cadet Honor Code, the Honor Investigative and Hearing System, and the Honor Education System. Although the Honor Code & System "belongs" to West Point graduates, staff and faculty members, and cadets, the special charter of maintaining the Honor Code & System resides with the Corps of Cadets. Since 1922, the elected members of the Cadet Honor Committee have represented the Corps on all matters pertaining to honor and are the stewards of the Code.

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2. The Cadet Honor Code.

a. The Cadet Honor Code is defined as "A cadet will not lie, cheat, steal, or tolerate those who do." The Honor Code expresses four succinct prohibitions. On a behavioral level, the Code represents a simple standard for all cadets. On a developmental plane, West Point expects that all cadets will strive to live far above the minimum standard of behavior and develop a commitment to ethical principles guiding moral actions.

b. West Point's core mission is develop leaders of character for our US Army. A leader of character knows what is right, and possesses the moral courage to act on that knowledge. The principles of truthfulness, fairness, respect for others, and a personal commitment to maintaining values constitute that fundamental ideal known as the Spirit of the Code. A leader of character will apply the Spirit of the Code when making decisions involving ethical dilemmas.

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3. The Investigative and Hearing System.

a. The Corps of Cadets bears the responsibility to resolve all possible violations of the Code through detailed, independent investigations and, when required, Honor Investigative Hearings. If a US Army cadet (or anyone else) suspects that a violation occurred, then she or he is expected to approach the individual to clarify what happened (this step is optional). If that approach resolves the issue; i.e., the cadet making the allegation realizes no Honor violation occurred, then the issue will be dropped. However, if the person making the allegation still believes a violation may have occurred, she or he is obligated to inform a member of the Honor Committee within 24 hours. Failure to do so is considered "toleration," which is itself a violation of the Honor Code (the 24 hour rule is a guideline, cadets are not automatically in violation of the Code if they take more than 24 hours to report a violation). Once a suspected violation is reported to a member of the Honor Committee, it must be investigated. The two Honor Committee members from the suspected cadet's company will do an initial inquiry and make a recommendation; then two members from outside the company will perform an investigation and make a recommendation; then the Regimental Honor Representative will review the case file and make a recommendation to the Vice-Chairperson for Investigations (VCI). The VCI is the first person who has the option to drop the case. If this decision (either forward or drop) is not in agreement with every other recommendation in the case file, then the Chairperson must make the final decision. If the case is forwarded to a hearing, the Commandant of Cadets must approve the decision and order that a hearing be convened.

b. A panel of nine randomly selected cadet (4 honor committee members and 5 from the Corps at large) determines whether or not one of their peers violated the Honor Code. Six of the nine voting members must determine that it is more likely than not that the cadet in question intentionally violated the Code. The respondent is afforded legal counsel and has the right to remain silent throughout out the investigation, to include the hearing. There is no prosecution or defense; both the hearing members and the respondent do all of the questioning. Witnesses are selected by the VCI and the respondent. The hearing is presided over by a Cadet President with the Assistance of a Hearing Officer, who is a JAG officer (military lawyer). The Hearing Officer is not allowed to vote, but does rule on procedural matters.

c. If the members of the Honor Investigative hearing determine that a cadet violated the Code, then they provide input to the Superintendent for disposition of the case. The Superintendent is bound by a "not found" verdict, but he may overturn a "found" decision based upon a legal review of the procedures. The Superintendent may exercise "discretion" and retain the cadet, or he may recommend separation to the Secretary of the Army. The Secretary of the Army is the sole separation authority for a cadet found in violation of the Honor Code at the United States Military Academy.

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4.The Honor Education Program – "the more we educate, the less we investigate."

a. The goals of the education program can be summarized into a simple concept: internalization of the Spirit of the Honor Code. Achieving that, however, is not so simple. Accordingly, the formal Honor Education Program is an atypical "curriculum." Approximately 25% of the formal classes involve traditional instruction wherein an instructor is expected to impart knowledge; the remainder of the classes are experientially based, reflective practicums. By that we mean small group discussions about hypothetical and actual experiences that force the decision maker to choose between to options that both have morally regrettable consequences (ethical dilemmas). Additionally, nearly all of the instruction and small group facilitation is done by cadets. We strongly believe that peer leaders, not authority figures, will establish, maintain and alter the values actually adhered to and internalized by the Corps of Cadets. Since cadets, however, have little experience in teaching and facilitating, classes are prepared, rehearsed and conducted under the mentorship of volunteer professors who have habitual and established relationships with specific companies in the Corps. We call these groups Company Honor Education Teams (CHETs).

b. The classes are progressive in nature; each year has a theme: the Honor Code, the Spirit of the Honor Code, the Army Values, and the Army Professional Ethos. New Cadets in basic training and plebes (freshmen) during the academic year receive traditional style classes on what is expected of them and how the system works. The upper three classes discuss ethical dilemmas as they relate to life as a cadet, and then life as an officer. These classes are not designed to provide "right answers;" they are designed to challenge the cadets to examine their own value systems and to promote internalization of the West Point value system.

c. Beyond the 44 hours of formal education, the honor Education Program has several complementary programs which contribute to the strengthening of character. One is the Respect of Others Program, which in a very similar fashion to Honor, fosters the value of safeguarding human dignity. The physical and academic programs also contribute to ethical development, most directly through sportsmanship standards and certain courses such as philosophy, leadership, military history and law. The military program under the direction of tactical officers is, among other things, designed to create an environment characterized by honorable living and positive leadership. This climate exerts a strong influence on the intellectual, military, and physical development of each cadet. It emphasizes trust and positive habit forming behaviors, which, in turn, inspire cadets to venerate the Spirit of the Code.

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5. The Honor Committee.

During the sophomore (yearling) year, each cadet company (there are 32 companies of approximately 120 cadets each) will elect a company honor representative (CHR) who will serve as an active member of the Honor Committee during her or his junior (cow) and senior (firstie) years. Therefore, the honor committee has 64 active CHRs. During the cow year, these 64 members elect their own committee leadership who will serve during the upcoming firstie year. The positions include the Chairperson of the Honor Committee, six staff officers, and four RHRs (one per regiment). The Chairperson works directly with the Commandant and Superintendent and is viewed by those officers to represent the Corps on all matters pertaining to Honor. The staff officer functions include investigations, hearings, the education program, liaisons with the academic departments, and honor/ethics conferences.