25. October 2004 · Comments Off on Memo: A Matter of Trust · Categories: General, Military

To: The Small Group of Readers of TDB Who Have Never Had Anything to Do With the Military
From: Sgt Mom
Re: Trust Issues

1. More than anything else, the military runs on trust. It is axiomatic (a bit of a cliché, even) that members of a squad/unit/team/crew trust each other implicitly. Every sort of military training, from the basic up to the most sophisticated war-gaming at command level instills and reinforces the notion of trusting those who are in the stuff with you— practically every military movie ever made addresses this on some level, so the concept is very familiar to the general public.

2. The less familiar sort of trust, appearing very occasionally in comparison, is that two way trust between the commander and the commanded. On the surface of it, this would look like a fairly straightforward thing, enforced by the articles of the UCMJ, and by long established custom as outlined in the folksong;

Over the hills and o’er the main.
To Flanders, Portugal, and Spain,
Queen Anne commands and we’ll obey.
Over the hills and far away.

But there is a two-way trust involved here, and in most situations it must be nurtured as carefully as the team-building sort. It took me a couple of months to develop that level of implicit trust with the best commander I ever worked for. At the beginning, I would walk into his office saying “There is a problem, the solutions are A, B, C and D, I prefer Solution C for these reasons, which one do you recommend, Sir?” After a while, he would say “Well, do what you think best, Sergeant,” and after another while I could only get up to “Sir there is a problem,” before he said, “Deal with it, brief me later.” Delegating that sort of responsibility implied a great deal of trust ; the commander is confident that the troops will actually go out and do as he asks, to the best of their ability and last drop of blood, to risk their lives and sometimes lose them. And the troops must trust in their commander, be assured that their lives will not be thrown away for a bad purpose or no purpose at all.

3. I could be assured that my commander would back me, in whatever solution I chose to sort out a problem, that I would not be hung out to dry for doing my job and exercising the authority delegated to me. A commander who trusts the troops, and whose troops return that trust can make mistakes, can muddle through, can take casualties, can work with an imperfect plan that needs to be carried out now and not wait for that perfect plan to be put into place too late to do any good. That sort of commander can achieve much, and those in the command can at least feel proud of having contributed. We are even trusted enough to blog about it, on our own time and own dime.

4. Just too as there was that best commander, I had experience at a distance with the other sort; the ambitious, square filling user, who looked at the command only as a means of climbing to the next level…. And believe me, people, I can tell the difference. By tomorrow a week, we’ll know how well the voting public can.

Sincerely, Sgt Mom

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