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From the Fleet: O-5 says stop coddling sailors

Aug. 12, 2013 - 06:00AM   |  
One officer's opinion: The Navy, mirroring society at large, is being too gentle with its sailors.
One officer's opinion: The Navy, mirroring society at large, is being too gentle with its sailors. (Courtesy of Cmdr. Mark Kahler)
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Editor’s note: Many readers responded to Navy Times’ Aug. 5 cover story about the use of mass punishment in the fleet, and to a request for comment from sailors about the Navy’s disciplinary process. Below are the thoughts of Cmdr. Mark Kahler of Norfolk, Va.:

We as the Defense Department have emulated, ever so slowly, the values of the greater society, and we are on a slippery slope if we continue to head down this path.

Our society has morphed from one of “It takes a village to raise a child” to one where every child is the parents’ prince or princess who cannot do anything wrong.

When I reported onboard my first ship, the junior petty officers were empowered to ensure I was “taught the ropes” — not with hazing, but with a firm, loud voice and reinforcements — they were the villagers. I never wanted my leading or chief petty officer to hear that my work was substandard because, if they would catch wind of this, their involvement would have been three times more miserable than what I was potentially going to receive from the lower levels.

This is no longer the case, as only the commanding officer is afforded authority to award punishment. Even then, in most cases the offender is given many chances to “fix themselves.”

Mirroring society’s norms is resulting in development of leaders who are hovering over and coddling their sailors, making sure they’re not overworked or put-upon; an increase in the number of permissive leaders who are unwilling to say, “No, not good enough”; and in leaders more interested in getting ahead of their peers via “gaming the system” — skirting obstacles instead of taking them on, and passing that attitude down to junior service members rather than honestly facing challenges.

There are multiple articles highlighting the fleet’s grandiose drinking parties, inappropriate relations, collisions with other ships, running aground, etc. Service members involved in these incidents don’t really get fired — they are mostly moved around and given another start.

Imagine the impact if a service member, regardless of rank or sex, who molests, robs, violates statutes or performs incompetently as a leader is given the maximum punishment, rather than telling 99 percent of the service members that they are being punished for the actions of the 1 percent.

Don’t coddle, protect and be permissive of the actions of the few — make the offenders feel the pain.

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