Leaders Must Lead
CAPT. JAHMEL R. LEONARD
631st Engineer Utilities Detachment
Virgin Islands Army National Guard
St. Thomas, Virgin Islands
In the Army, it’s often stated that leaders must lead — and do so while considering all safety precautions. It’s troublesome, however, when a leader (e.g., field-grade officer) either forgets what it means to be safe or just believes they can do whatever they choose. Here’s an example.
During a three-day individual weapons qualification, my brigade had two ranges available to complete our training within the prescribed timeline. We didn’t have any safety issues or concerns because we adhered to the Army standards and those of our adjutant general.
On the last day of training, a competition was held to build Soldier morale and for unit bragging rights. The field-grade officer took the competition further by putting his weapon on the burst selection to fire his remaining alibi rounds. Unfortunately, his failure to adhere to Army safety standards and use basic common sense resulted in an overheated weapon and debilitating injury to the officer. Once the cook off was over and it was determined safe to approach the injured officer, medical personnel rushed him to the emergency room. Tragically, the officer lost his leg as a result of his injuries.
The junior Soldiers were shocked and confused. Later, during the counseling session, they questioned why the mishap even occurred. Some believed no one corrected the officer because of his more senior rank. Others questioned why some senior leaders often ignore Army safety standards entirely.
Leaders consistently brief Soldiers about being safe during weekends, holidays, block leave, etc., but they sometimes become negligent about their own safety. The officer mentioned earlier did not display sound judgment as reflected in the unsafe firing of a weapon.
The Army’s goal is to change the culture of how Soldiers see safety in order to complete their missions. During the counseling session, the Soldiers obviously wanted to do what they were instructed to do, but leadership failed them by its actions. If the Army is to meet its safety goal, leaders must embed safety into every facet of the Soldiers’ training. We can’t expect Soldiers to follow regulations while leaders supplant the regulations because of their seniority.
The lesson we all can learn from the officer’s misjudgment is that leaders and safety go hand-in-hand, especially where accountability is concerned. Regardless of rank, we should never waver from doing what is right. If the officer had used better judgment during the competition, then the mishap could have been prevented and he wouldn’t have lost a leg.
Imagine if the Soldiers had followed suit. More casualties could have ensued. What example are we setting as leaders with regard to safety? Leaders must practice what they preach. The culture of the Army starts with its leaders delegating tasks to their subordinates, and once safety is exuded from the top, the bottom will follow. Safety is the answer to protect the Army’s most valuable resource, its Soldiers.