Sunday, December 29, 2013

Honestly inspecting a few good men

For 48 years, a reader from the Midwest writes that he has been suffering over a choice he made during his military service as a U.S. Marine.

In 1965, after his first tour in Vietnam, he was posted to a base in the United States. His commanding officer (CO) was a World War II veteran and a lieutenant colonel hoping to be promoted to full colonel before his impending retirement.

My reader was assigned to train instructors in general military subjects. These instructors were tasked with training junior Marines how to service and repair airplanes and helicopters.

After they received notice of the annual inspection by the Inspector General (IG), the CO instructed my reader to prepare the command for the IG's visit. The inspection would include separate but concurrent inspections -- obstacle course, uniforms and equipment, and a general military subjects written exam. My reader was to divide the command into three groups. Because he had already conducted similar inspections as part of his regular duties, he knew who was capable of what.

It crossed his mind to rig the inspection by assigning "the jocks to the obstacle course, nerds to the written exam and pretty boys to uniform and equipment." He could also make sure that anyone not falling into one of those categories would take leave that day.

"I rejected this on the basis of an ethical choice, in short, that this would not result in an accurate picture of the command thus defeating (what I assumed to be) the inspection's purpose," he writes. "Therefore, I chose to divide the command on a random basis." 

After the IG's inspection they met in the CO's office for a review. They'd scored 92 percent overall which my reader thought was pretty good. But the IG's team blasted them because their 92 percent was considerably below that of other similar units. In a later conversation with a member of the IG's team my reader mentioned that they could have scored higher had he rigged the category-selections. Without blinking, he replied, "Of course, we know that."

My reader writes that he has no problem taking responsibility for his own ethical choices. But he has long suffered because the responsibility for his ethical choice "fell upon the shoulders of my CO." My reader was later transferred while his CO was still a lieutenant colonel.

"I never found out whether he was promoted before retirement or whether the poor inspection may have affected his chances of promotion," my reader writes. "As you might infer, it bothers me to this day."

My reader chose to do the right thing. While his CO may have taken responsibility for his command not doing quite as well as others, the inspection truly reflected the readiness of the Marines in all areas rather than having been rigged to come off better than reality. If there was a competing loyalty to the CO and to having the inspection accurately reflect how capable his Marines were, my reader made the right choice. He carried out his orders without deception.

If the member of the IG's team knew that others were "rigging" the results, the right thing would have been for him to call them on it rather than chastise one of the commands that chose to show integrity by providing an honest assessment of his Marine's capabilities. 

Follow him on Twitter: @jseglin 

Do you have ethical questions that you need answered? Send them to 



Anonymous said...

I simply don't see why the questioner felt he did anything unethical. To the contrary, knowing he could have and didn't makes him a hero. So what that his C.O. may not have made his promotion. People worry about the wrong things!

Charlie Seng

Anonymous said...

An inspection is a test. A test in reality is to score points and look good. To do the best job possible is the way to go.
If the military wanted an accurate assessment, it would have been done at a random time and with no notice.
People study for tests and practice on stuff they think will be asked all of the time. It goes without saying that a good score is often a big plus for the future.
I think the questioner should have tried to give his outfit the best possible review. What he did was not unethical, but poor judgment considering the others prepared for the "test" and his group essentially did not.

Alan Owseichik
Greenfield, Ma.