Accountability: a tale of two senior NCOs Published Aug. 17, 2010 By Chief Master Sgt. John D. Schrecengost 28th Medical Group superintendent ELLSWORTH AIR FORCE BASE, S.D. -- As the superintendent of the 28th Medical Group, I am honored to work hand-in-hand with the commanders and first sergeant to maintain standards, morale and discipline in the group, while ensuring mission success. In keeping with this, I have daily interaction with many people in all kinds of situations. With very few exceptions, I can count on the people I work with to be honest and operate with integrity. But every now and then, the system breaks down and someone struggles with the truth. This tale of two SNCOs and their decisions on accountability demonstrates the possible consequences of a dishonest course of action. Our first SNCO, let's call him Senior Master Sgt. Red-in-the-face, was a young squadron superintendent at an Air Force Base far, far away. His office was next-door to the Education and Training element and he became close-friends with the NCO in-charge. The NCO in-charge had just completed a Friday afternoon medical training class and afterward was on his way back to the storage closet to return a couple of full-body mannequins. Sergeant Red-in-the-face, being a helpful kind of guy, volunteered to assist the NCO in-charge by carrying one of the mannequins to the closet. After the NCO in-charge left, the superintendent decided to have some fun by placing the two mannequins in a "compromising" position for the NCO in-charge to discover on Monday. Very pleased with himself, the superintendent left for the weekend. Monday morning rolled around and Sergeant Red-in-the-face, having forgotten all about Friday, walked into the conference room for the 7:30 a.m. staff meeting with the group commander. The meeting started in the same way it usually did, but when the first slide came up, it was not the slide of enlistment performance review or officer performance review timelines the superintendent expected. Instead, the slide was a full-screen picture of the two mannequins in the position they had been left in on the bed in the treatment room! To make matters worse, the group commander had decided to give some visiting family members a tour of the medical facility and it was the group commander's mother who found Sergeant Red-in-the-face's little joke instead of the NCO in charge. After a painful lecture and some choice adjectives, the group commander concluded the meeting by promising death to the person found responsible for the prank. Sergeant Red-in-the face, unable to find a rock big enough to hide under, spent the entire meeting trying to decide what to do. After the meeting, Sergeant Red-in-the-face asked the group commander and his squadron commander to stay behind for a moment. Then, with trembling knees, the superintendent admitted to being fully responsible for the prank. After an even more painful discussion and some more choice adjectives, the group commander told the superintendent that he admired his courage for taking responsibility and being accountable for his actions. He then threw him out of the room and told the squadron commander that no more disciplinary action was necessary. Later that year, Sergeant Red-in-the-face was promoted to chief based in no small part on the recommendation of that very same group commander. Our second Senior NCO for the next scenario, let's call him Senior Master Sgt. Pants-on-fire, was called into his chief's office to explain his part in an incident the chief had witnessed in the presence of some junior-ranking Airmen. The chief considered the sergeant's actions to be below the professional standard associated with his rank. The incident was a bone-head move on the part of the sergeant, but it was harmless and was probably only deserving of a minor chewing-out and a simple reminder about professional standards. To the chief's dismay, instead of owning up to his involvement in the incident, Sergeant Pants-on-fire walked into the chief's office, looked the chief straight in the eye and told him a bold-faced lie! The sergeant must have known the chief knew the sergeant was lying, but he probably knew the chief would have a hard time proving it. The chief was shocked by the sergeant's dishonesty, considering his reputation, but the chief regrouped, put on his poker face, thanked Sergeant Pants-on-fire for his time and told him he was free to go. When the sergeant walked out of the chief's office, he probably felt pretty good about getting away with what he had done. He might have thought he fooled the old chief, but he couldn't have been more wrong. In a moment of weakness- one failure to hold himself accountable for his actions- the sergeant lost all credibility with a person in his chain of command. The jury is still out on whether he will progress to the next rank, but if he does, the sergeant will have to do it without a strong recommendation from the chief. Two SNCOs faced with difficult situations chose two different paths. One of them made a good decision; the other did not. The moral of the story is consequences of sacrificing our integrity and failing to hold ourselves accountable can be far-reaching. As individuals capable of accountability, we are able to continue functioning ethically and responsibly. Accountability is the linchpin of ethics. When people have a well-developed sense of accountability, they are honest with themselves and responsible for what they say and do. Doing the right thing when nobody is watching, is not only integrity- it is the core of accountability.