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VMI Ethics Team Wins Military Ethics Case Competition: First Perfect Score Given in Years

Ethics team posing with trophy

Holding the first-place trophy are (from left) Cadet Harris Burton ’23, Cadet Riley Malone ’25, Cadet Riley Shultz ’24, Col. Patrick Looney, and Cadet Gabriele Woodward ’24 at the U.S. Naval Academy Stockdale Center for Ethical Leadership in Annapolis, Maryland.—Photo courtesy The Stockdale Center for Ethical Leadership, U.S. Naval Academy.

The VMI ethics team recently won first place at the Military Ethics Case Competition held at the U.S. Naval Academy Stockdale Center for Ethical Leadership in Annapolis, Maryland, April 15, 2023. The win was underscored by the team receiving the first perfect score awarded at the competition in years.

The Military Ethics Case Competition is open to any senior military college, and this year’s competitors included teams from the USNA, U.S. Air Force Academy, U.S. Military Academy, and VMI. VMI team members who traveled to Annapolis include Cadets Harris Burton ’23, cadet-in-charge; Riley Shultz ’24, assistant cadet-in-charge; Gabriele Woodward ’24; and Riley Malone ’25. They were sponsored by the Center for Leadership and Ethics and coached by Col. Patrick Looney, CLE deputy director.

According to Burton, the Military Ethics Case Competition is the team’s most anticipated event of the year. “We spent weeks preparing for this competition. This year’s case was titled, ‘Nipping Toxic Leadership in the Bud.’ We were tasked with developing a curriculum to identify and mitigate toxic leadership in the officer accession pipeline of our choice. We proposed an ROTC-specific curriculum based on the VMI Leader Journey that identified three lines of effort—academics, training, and assurance—as the means to combat toxic leadership. Specifically, the assurance effort included 360-degree reviews (performance feedback from peers, leaders, and followers) and annual self-assessments designed to identify the traits of psychopathy, Machiavellianism, and narcissism (The Dark Triad),” she said.

The competition model called for teams to submit a slideshow presentation in advance of the competition and then perform a 30-minute in-person presentation followed by a 20-minute question-and-answer segment at the competition in which competitors faced challenges from a group of judges, some of whom were retired military officers.

The VMI team won the competition in 2021 and was thrilled to win again this year, with the additional honor of receiving the first perfect score in years. They were presented with a large trophy that will be on display in the Post Exchange. The U.S. Naval Academy, U.S. Military Academy, and U.S. Air Force Academy teams placed second, third, and fourth, respectively. “The ethics team cadets led by Cadet Harris Burton really knocked it out of the park at the MECC this year,” said Looney. “Their weeks of preparation and practice really paid off.  It was very rewarding to see the judges acknowledge their efforts.”

Burton, who graduates in May, said her experience on the ethics team was a wonderful opportunity to develop her reasoning and discussion skills and make lifelong friends. “Other than my roommates, my teammates are the closest relationships I have formed at VMI. They mean the world to me, and we have a lot of fun together,” she said.

  • Marianne Hause VMI Communications & Marketing