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Honest Mistake or Unforgivable Sin?

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Have you ever had a Soldier make a mistake, sometimes a serious mistake? What is appropriate action? Is it a slap on the wrist, corrective training, or UCMJ? How do you determine which action is appropriate?

In my opinion there are 2 categories of mistakes.

Honest Mistakes: when a Soldier makes an honest mistake, it is usually handled by corrective training. So, what is an honest mistake?  It could be anything from a Soldier making a mistake during training or to failing make a formation on time due to forgetfulness or oversleeping. There are some Honest mistakes that could still get you in trouble (example: Negligent Weapons Discharge), but those should be few and far between

Unforgivable Sins:  Any action that is illegal, unethical, immoral, or unsafe falls into this category.  If a Soldier’s actions fall into this category, they usually knew the action was wrong before they did it.  Example: inappropriate relationships, gambling with subordinates, abusing subordinates, hazing, bullying, etc. In these cases, rarely is mercy applied as this was a willful decision.  In some rare cases it could be a lack of proper education on the Soldier’s part but this should be few and far between. In these cases there might be room to apply some level of mercy and/or forgiveness. So how are you handling these types of mistakes? Take some time to think through recent events and determine how you handled the issue and how you could have handled it better.  I believe most issues fall into the honest mistake category…. some honest mistakes are more serious than others (example Negligent Weapons Discharge) and may require more than corrective training but only you can make that decision.  If you are unsure talk to your leadership team. Do your best to be reasonable and fair.  Treat the Soldier the way you want to be treated within the guidelines established by the Army.  Keep in mind you and I both most likely made some serious mistakes during our career.  How did our leaders handle the situation?  Were they forgiving and understanding, did they show no mercy?  The choice is yours and it is a balancing act. Jut remember your decision can have unintended consequences.  For example, you recommend the Soldier for a Summary Article 15 for being late. Later it is time to reenlist and the Soldier cannot reenlist because of the Article 15. Was that your intent or did you just lose a good Soldier because you failed to use corrective training when this level of intervention would have been appropriate.  Think before you act! Leadership is not easy and it is best to think through the problem, reach out to leaders you see as level headed and/or mentors.  The key is to make the right decision…your decisions have both intended and unintended consequences. on Facebook/Twitter/Newsletter

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Mark is a Retired Command Sergeant Major with 26 years of military leadership experience. He held 3 military occupational specialties (Field Artillery, Nuclear Weapons Tech, and Ammunition Ordnance). Mark is one of the leading military authors in the fields of leadership, counseling, and training.

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