By Dr. Steven Voris
THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN TEACHING CHANGE AND INSPIRING CHANGE
As a forward-deployed Navy Chaplain embedded with a Marine Corps squadron, the Safety Officer, a Gunnery Sergeant, stopped me and asked for advice. There had been multiple occurrences of FOD (Foreign Object Damage or military-speak for litter on the runway) and this would not only reflect poorly on him, but could cause aircraft damage if the FOD were sucked into an aircraft engine. Avoiding FOD is taught at all levels in an air wing because it is preventable damage. The Safety Officer believed the FOD was the result of a lack of accountability of Marines to each other and that teaching a safety brief on FOD would not be helpful since everyone already knew FOD was dangerous. I pitched the idea of letting the chaplain teach a workshop using a parable followed by a small group discussion to inspire change to correct the FOD problem. He said he’d take the idea to the Maintenance Officer, who loved the idea.
The parable workshop and discussion was well-received. Small group discussions explored leadership and accountability. There was an immediate change in personal behavior concerning FOD near the aircraft sun shades, break area, and taxiway. I mentioned to the Maintenance Officer that this workshop would make a great bullet for my upcoming Fitness Report. He said, “Oh, no. That would mean telling the Commanding Officer about our FOD problem. We’re definitely not doing that. But, you have our thanks.”
TRAVERSING THE MINEFIELD: A PARABLE ABOUT SAFETY
By Dr. Steven Voris
“I think you’ve been in the warzone too long.”
The younger man shrugged. “I don’t know. I’ve kind of gotten used to this place. It’s not so bad after you’ve been here a while. And, there certainly are advantages to being far away from the flagpole. You can relax a little more and use common sense when making decisions.”
The older man rubbed his cheek up and down firmly. He pushed the keyboard to one side of the desk and opened a folder. He pulled out a black and white 8 X 10 photo and slid it across the desk to the younger man sitting in a folding chair. “This photo appears to show you crossing a minefield. Is this correct?”
With just a glance at the photo the young man replied in the affirmative, “Yeah, that’s me. I found a shortcut through the minefield that cuts 15 minutes off my commute time to the office.”
The older man cleared his throat. “Do you think using that shortcut is the safest course of action?”
“Is anybody ever really safe?I’m in a warzone. I’m drawing combat pay. It’s not safe even being here. I’ve found a more efficient travel path to work, and that saves me 30 total minutes a day. The taxpayers should be glad I’m efficient with my time.”
“So, you use that extra 30 minutes to conduct more military business on behalf of the taxpayers then?”
“Heck no! That’s 30 more minutes of personal time to improve my morale.”
“I see,” the older man replied flatly. The steady groaning of the air conditioner covered the silence that followed. He continued, “Isn’t there an instruction that addresses minefields?”
Leaning back in his chair, the young man laughed at the question. “Nobody follows the instruction literally! It simply takes too much time and energy—time and energy that could be spent in other ways.”
The older man rubbed his hand over the top of his head. His hair had long ago turned from brown to gray, but the high and tight haircut trimmed a few years off his appearance. “For the sake of argument, doesn’t the instruction have something in there about bringing in EOD and removing the hazard?”
“EOD is overworked, and I didn’t want to add to their tasking unnecessarily.”
“But removing explosive ordinance is what EOD does. By not reporting this minefield, you are preventing them from doing their job.”
“I prefer to think of it as saving the American taxpayers money. We’ll be pulling out of this sandpit of a country soon enough, and we can leave this minefield for the local military to clean up. They need the practice anyway.”
“Okay, I’m not sure I completely agree, but I understand your logic. Still, doesn’t the instruction state that the minefield should be clearly marked and barriers put up to prohibit innocents from entering it by accident?”
The young man tipped the chair forward bringing all four legs back down on the deck. He leaned forward as he answered, “First, everyone knows where the minefield is, so marking it is unnecessary. We include this hazard in our safety brief for newbies, and we haven’t had that many incidents.”
“Hmmph. Not that many incidents. I see. Can you tell me exactly how many incidents there have been?”
“We haven’t been tracking the exact number. Occasionally something will set off a mine. I just figure that for every mine that blows up, that’s one less mine for EOD to clean up later.”
“Do you know exactly what ‘somethings’ have set off the undetermined number of mines in the said minefield?”
“No. Sending a crew in to check on the situation would put them at risk. If they found something, there would have to be a report, and then somebody would have to be tortured with reading that report. Everybody’s just better off not knowing.”
“But you said you travel through the minefield twice a day.”
“Well, sometimes as many as four times a day if I decide to go home for lunch, but I don’t let anyone else use this shortcut. I consider traversing the minefield a personal challenge for myself. It makes life here more interesting. I would never approve of other people going into the minefield. In fact, I would punish them if I caught them doing so.”
“That’s a relief. Then, explain to me why you didn’t put up a barrier around the minefield?”
“Oh, a Concertina wire fence would be an eyesore. Like I already said, everyone already knows where the minefield is.”
The older man picked the photo up and held it up for the younger man to see. “What are all these blobs? That wouldn’t be litter, would it?”
The young man examined the photo closer. “No, that’s not litter. That’s where I dispose of our office garbage. When I leave for the evening, I just take a bag of trash with me and give it a good heave-ho on the trip home. It’s more efficient than contracting for garbage disposal at this remote site.”
The older man bowed his head and closed his eyes before asking, “Did you ever consider that the blowing trash might set off a mine?”
“Sure, but that would result in fewer mines.”
“You know that the trash is an eyesore and detrimental to the environment.” He said it as a statement, not a question.
The young man got up, picked up a well-stained coffee mug, and poured a cup of coffee from an equally dilapidated coffee maker set up on a small table in the corner. Other than the desk, a rusty file cabinet, the little table, and the folding chair, the tent had no other furnishings. He returned to his seat and sipped the coffee before replying, “I don’t understand why all the sudden interest in our situation here. We’ve been left to our own devices for months. And, as for the trash, IT’S a minefield! With or without Concertina wire it’s all an eyesore.”
“I’m afraid you are setting a bad example for junior personnel.”
“If you mean the shortcut, absolutely not. Everyone knows that I’ll punish anyone who walks through the minefield. I’m the only one who does that.”
The older man opened the folder back up and pulled out a second photograph. He slid it across the desk to the young man.
The young man shook his head in disbelief. “This can’t be true. Everyone knows not to take the shortcut. I’ll see that he gets appropriately punished.”
STORY END VERSION #1 (FOR DISCUSSION GROUPS)
ALTERNATE ENDING VERSION #2:
“Do you think it’s right for you to punish someone for doing something that you regularly, and publicly, do yourself?”
Before the red-faced young man could reply, the older man continued, “First Lieutenant, I’m relieving you for cause. I’ve lost confidence in your leadership. I’m sending you home on the next flight available.” The colonel pivoted back in the wobbly office chair. “That will be all.”
STORY END VERSION #2 (FOR SELF-STUDY)
QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION
- In this story, do you believe the young man knew what the right actions were in regard to the minefield?
- What rationalizations did he use to justify not following the instruction?
- The young man did not want to investigate or file reports on possible mishaps in the minefield. What are the safety consequences of not filing a report?
- The young man got a personal thrill from walking through the minefield. Why is thrill-seeking so detrimental in maintaining safety?
- Did the young man set a good example for others?
- How did the lack of oversight in this situation lead to complacency?
- Why is it important that every person be held accountable for their behavior?
- Is efficiency or convenience an excuse to relax safety standards?
- If a person believes they have a more efficient way of doing a procedure, is there a military process in place to amend those instructions? Who can make a suggestion?
- Why does doing something more safely almost always require more time and effort?
- Where do you think the colonel got the two photographs?
- Under what circumstances should you report a senior for continuing unsafe practices?