Sunday, January 20, 2013

Admin routing

File:Army Medal of Honor.jpg

I was reading this article

about Dakota Meyer's book, "Into the Fire: A Firsthand Account of the Most Extraordinary Battle in the Afghan War," when I stumbled across this paragraph:

Army officials acknowledged last year that Swenson’s initial packet was lost and that a second packet had been resubmitted. An investigation ordered by Allen determined that the first nomination packet was lost “due to failures at multiple levels in tracking and processing the award, and that high turnover of personnel and staffs in theater contributed to the problem,” said Army Col. Thomas Collins, a spokesman with the International Security Assistance Force, led by Allen.


OK, so imagine you're an admin officer. A Medal of Honor package comes across your desk. Only THE highest award in the DoD, awarded by the President himself. Wouldn't you ensure that it somehow makes it through your routing chain?

Apparently not.

What is interesting is what you see NOT happen:

- No one was fired.
- No one was demoted in rank.
- No one was punished, basically, at all.

As I'm fond of telling my sailors, I can't actually make you do anything. I can't physically lift your arms and operate your hands to get you to type something, or force you to study, or make you perform at your job. If you choose to completely blow me off, I can't really stop you.

What I can do as a Naval Officer is punish you when you don't do what I want, and reward you when you do a good job. If you do a great job on an assignment, and I let you leave work 30 minutes early, I'm rewarding you and hopefully making you more likely to do good work in the future. On the same level, if I make you stay later to fix a job you did poorly, or extend your working hours because you didn't finish a project because you slacked off during the day, then I punish you (and hopefully teach you to do better in the future).

Everyone likes to reward people. It's fun to pass out command coins, or pin on awards, or promote people. I love it. I got the pleasure of pinning a new first class petty officer in an EP-3E aircraft while we were returning home from a mission. For lack of a better phrase, it was just plain awesome.

But punishment...lots of people shy away from punishment. It's not fun to strip someone of a stripe. It's not fun to give someone a counseling chit. It's not fun to tell the CO and XO that one of your really good sailors just messed up royally, and your command may get a black eye because of it.

You can't be an effective Naval Officer if you aren't willing to punish people. In the book The Price of Command (Nate Lawton Series), Nate, a young midshipman, witnesses how his captain refuses to punish his sailors when they do wrong, and instead forces the other officers in his wardroom to take the blame for being the bad guy. He's rather devious about it too. At one point, the Captain has a sailor flogged, but has the XO do it, and is conveniently not present during the flogging. He does stop by after to comfort the sailor though, despite the fact that the only person onboard that could order a flogging is the Captain. His wardroom sees through it though, and while I won't give away the ending of the book, the captain gets his in the end.

Avoiding punishment because it is uncomfortable is a form of cowardice. Sailor's lose faith with their chain of command if it doesn't punish those that stray outside the rules. If you don't enforce the rules, then why have them at all? Why bother?

The Army should have fired and disciplined people in the admin routing chain that somehow lost a Medal of Honor package. If people saw that their "failures at multiple levels in tracking and processing" resulted in butt-chewings, EMI, extra duty, and the occasional loss of stripe, perhaps these failures would become less present. By not taking any action, what they told their soldiers is that admin is above the law and will not be held accountable, no matter how messed up they are.

Even if they throw a Medal of Honor in the trash.