I recently came across an interesting case study in an old Academy ethics textbook (yes I just read this kind of stuff for fun, I’m that lame), and thought it would make a good reflection topic for a post. In the case, a newly reported JO had just been appointed as the Training Officer for her unit. In this role she was responsible for managing an assortment of training records from several divisions (most of which were led by division officers senior to her), and ensuring that the command could report the satisfactory completion of training to its superiors. In first few weeks in the job, she was pleased to learn that all divisions had excellent training practices, and her records were perfect.
Her tune changed when she actually started showing up to monitor the training—this wasn’t required of her, but she felt it necessary. Unsurprisingly, she discovered that many portions of the prescribed training were not being conducted as written, if at all. Her personal observation directly contradicted the stacks of perfect training critique sheets on her desk; in other words, training was being “gundecked.” Her ethical dilemma was in what precisely to do about this, especially considering the risk of being ostracized by the other division officers if she chose to make a stink about it.
What she did, which I think was a wise and measured response, was step up her monitoring of the training even more, and reject the training reports for the evolutions she knew had not occurred. She informed the other division officers in no uncertain terms that she would not accept false records. They got over it, word quickly spread, and the command’s definition of “normal” training adjusted to something more like what is actually required in writing.
The case isn’t that interesting on the surface; gundecked training is about as common as rain. What is interesting is what the Training Officer DIDN’T do, and especially that the case study made no mention of this: she didn’t go up the chain with the problem. She didn’t drag the command into an onerous, dramatic investigation of integrity scandal, which would have effectively shut the whole ship down. She didn’t get people fired, de-rated, or sent to mast. She just fixed it. She handled the problem at her level.
This, ladies and gentlemen, is an example of that mysterious moral territory we hear about in hushed tones behind stateroom doors, but which on-the-record ethics training of any sort is loath to acknowledge: This is a gray area. Gray areas indicate flaws in the system.
I can’t tell you what the Right Thing to do in this situation is, because I honestly don’t know the answer. Maybe the Right Thing would be to immediately take it to the CO, which would obligate him to launch an investigation which would get a bunch of people fired. Personally, I’m of the opinion that if you’re going to abruptly change the local definition of “normal” like she did, you should give everyone fair warning first.
The people who write the requirements don’t necessarily talk to each other. When sailors gundeck things, it’s generally not because they’re lazy or corrupt but because they can’t legitimately achieve all the written requirements in a reasonable amount of time. They learn through experience that Not Inspected equals Not Important. They’re in a constant state of tension; they’re pulled in every direction and will use every trick they know to make ends meet. Sometimes they get a little too far out of the box, and you have to reel them back in. You don’t necessarily have to destroy them.
One other comment. TRAINO chose to be the “senior man with a secret,” figuratively speaking—something we’re always warned about as midshipmen. That was a moral burden she willfully assumed. I suspect that her bosses knew full well that training wasn’t happening as written; I don’t think it was a secret. TRAINO’s decision to handle it at her level, though, provided her superiors with a luxury known as “plausible deniability.”
The words “plausible deniability” should taste like curdled milk in your mouth. They represent the aspirations of weasels and cowards, self-interested pseudo-leaders who will allow a subordinate to take the fall for something the leader chose not to address. It is one thing to assume the burden of a secret in order to fix a local problem locally—I can’t recommend it in good conscience, but I do applaud TRAINO’s fortitude and imagine that I would have done the same. It is an entirely different thing to impose such a burden on your people, even if it is only implied.