Monday, January 26, 2009

Enlisted senior leadership needs a wakeup call after article detailing 18 deaths due to electrocution

I am not the type who shows a lot of outrage in this blog, but this morning when I read Scott Huddleston's article in today's Express News about the death of 18 people due to shoddy electrical and plumbing maintenance it made me pretty ticked off.
Here's why....
Huddleston's article details how PFC Eric Stults deals with the injuries to his arm and his groin.
"The reaction I get from people range from 'That's totally messed up' to a few choice words for KBR," Huddleston quoted Stults in today's article after he was electrically shocked in his shower.
I am a retired Air Force noncommissioned officer who knows that while the article blames KBR and their subcontract force for not fixing the problem, there's a bigger issue.  It's enlisted leadership.
In the military, there's a senior noncommissioned officer called a senior enlisted advisor or a command sergeant major.  When I first served in the Air Force at Bergstrom AFB, Texas, I had the pleasure of working and have the guideance of CMSgt. Floyd McDowell.   Had Chief McDowell been "in country," he would have told both his commander and his civil engineer that there was a problem in the shoddy work done with the showers.
With someone like Chief McDowell prodding them, the engineers would have fixed the problem internally or had taken actions to get the contract team replaced.
Yet, today there aren't a lot of senior noncoms like Chief McDowell, who I had the pleasure of working with from 1980 to 1982.   Most of them have become what the enlisted force refer to as the "E-9."   These were guys, who benefited from performance reports endorsed by their commanders who only saw a "Yes man" in a perfect uniform.
 I once got into trouble at Lackland AFB, Texas, my last duty assignment, for telling that senior enlisted advisor during his "Welcome to Lackland" briefing that billeting had assigned me to a room for smokers as I was looking for a home for a family.  With a son who was an asthmatic, you thought that the chief would have helped me get resolution.  Instead, my boss and I had to report to this senior ranking person for "showing him up" in public.
Huddleston's article details how Cheryl Harris, the mother of Army SSgt. Ryan Maseth is suing KBR for negligence.   However, Robert Gates, our Secretary of Defense, needs to takes to conduct an investigation into the matter.  Gates, by the way, asked for the resignation of Michael Wynne, the Secretary of the Air Force and Michael Mosely, the Air Force chief of staff, after a Air Force loaded nuclear weapons during a routine training run.
If an independent investigator can verify that the contractor didn't respond to four work orders to fix the showers that killed Sergeant Maseth, then the commander and the sergeant major for the battalion or brigade that oversee the care and welfare of his dormitory should be tried in a military courts martial.  
As a retired noncom, I can think of two or three charges under the Uniformed Code of Military Justice that fit the bill, especially "dereliction of duties."  If a military court can find that both Maseth's commander and unit sergeant major knew there was a problem with the showers, then it's time for Secretary Gates or someone on his staff to prefer charges.
Doing that will send a message to senior enlisted leadership that it's time to become more like a Chief McDowell than one of those guys who looks perfect in their uniform.   By conducting a full investigation not only into KBR's contract work but also looking at the role of the commander and sergeant major in this incident, our civilian military leadership can shake things up.
From reading Huddleston's article, it's time to make some fundamental changes in leadership management.  If you agree, then forward this blog to your Secretary Gates' office or to your Congressional leadership.

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