Saturday, March 26, 2016


Gavel, from Wikipedia.
 The Navy Times continues to break the often bad news about the Navy, and last night was no different:

In this case, a Navy Captain will now go to jail for almost four years for blatantly taking bribes.  This is the same guy that years earlier, as a young Ensign, raised his right hand and swore to defend the Constitution of the United States.  Obviously his integrity got off the rails along the way, but how?

We as a Navy have put considerable effort towards integrity training.  As a junior officer, I went to two weeks of Division Officer Leadership School, and before taking my current job I went to an advanced leadership school at the Navy's Leadership and Ethics Center.  The Division Officer school was, lacking, to say the least.  I remember at one point being asked "What do you do when your CO asks you to lie?", and it was almost comical because none of us thought a CO would just blatantly tell you to lie about something.

And in truth, that is correct.  Typically you don't have someone go directly from straight-A Ensign to cheating Naval Officer.  What we fail to grasp about integrity violations is that they start really small and slowly snowball.  A great book to read (if you can find it) is "When Soldiers Quit: Studies In Military Disintegration."  The book talks about how normally good people, when stressed and pushed, can eventually break down and commit gross integrity violations (like the My Lai Massacre).

The book highlights that there everyone has integrity seams, where someone's personal values conflict with the outside world.  In normal circumstances, your personal willpower can overcome these temptations.  But when you apply stress, it makes it harder.  Even worse, if the violation is small, it's easy to apply enough stress to get that first violation.  That makes the seam worse, and this cycle, repeated over time, eventually leads to massive violations.

So how do you stop it?  The Navy does a good job of providing initial training, and the 360 feedback it gives during PXO/PCO courses is superb at identifying where your image of yourself might not be so realistic.  I think we fail on the continuing education portion.  To really keep the integrity drumbeat going, we need to do a few things:

1. Talk about how integrity fits into daily decisions. 
2. Come up with real plans that make it easy for Sailors to follow the rules.
3. When small violations happen, use written counseling and focus on follow-up.

For example, recently we had to figure out if we could use a government vehicle to transport VIPs to lunch.  Turns out you can, but we can't park them at the site.  That seems like a dumb rule, and would be pretty easy to ignore and likely not get caught.  But if we did that, it would simply make the integrity seam a little bit wider, and make it a little easier to violate another rule in the future.  So we made a plan to have Sailors drive down, drop the VIPs off and then return later.  We didn't tell the Sailors to "figure it out" or "get r dun."  We gave them a clear plan that keeps all parties involved out of any gray areas.

I've had plenty of minor integrity issues happen with Sailors that work for me.  What I keep finding is that verbal counseling doesn't work.  It's not enough to simply tell a Sailor they messed up and need to not repeat it in the future.  I think this is because any integrity violation automatically widens the integrity seam.  When that happens, it's like fixing a pothole.  You can just dump in more material to fill the seam (verbal guidance), but that is only a temporary measure that will eventually fail again and make the situation worse.  Instead, you need to drill the problem and rebuild it to make it stronger. 

A written counseling accomplishes this by forcing a real, closed door counseling session to happen, where the actual issues come out.  It lets a supervisor drill down to the heart of the problem, help build a solution and get the Sailor on the right path.  It's taken more seriously because anything written down could be used in a future mast, but the great part is that it can also simply be shredded later if the Sailor continues to improve.

But we don't do this because it takes time and because we worry that it's overreacting.  The notion that written counseling is too hard, too time consuming and overreacting is inherently lazy and sets our Sailors up for failure.  How much time is the Navy spending prosecuting all parties involved in the Fat Leonard scandal?  How much distraction is it from our mission? 

What if someone would have written up CAPT Dusek earlier in his career?  Yeah, it would have been an uncomfortable conversation, but then perhaps he wouldn't be in jail.