Friday 2 September 2011

Reputation management - are you cherishing your integrity?

This is one of a series of articles on lessons from Commando training.  Here is the full list.

The two most important resources a Royal Marine has are his rifle and his integrity. From the very start of training, recruits are taught that these two assets must be cherished so that they never fail.

Both also require constant checking and cleaning. If a recruit doesn't know what state his rifle is in, he presents a danger to himself and his colleagues with potentially fatal consequences. Likewise, a breakdown in integrity can destroy trust within a team and do untold damage.

The British standard issue rifle, the SA80, is a complex and carefully engineered automatic weapon, with dozens of components that must be carefully disassembled, checked, cleaned and reassembled each day to ensure that it will operate without jamming when required. Cleaning is a laborious challenge involving careful scrubbing of the many parts of the weapon that are covered in the residue of burnt gunpowder, and then the application of a protective layer of oil. Each Royal Marine always carries a cleaning kit that includes a variety of tools to assist in this process. The kit includes the regulation issued oil that protects the metal from corrosion and lubricates the action.

Oil be damned

Early in our training we discovered that while the issued oil was great for protection and lubrication, it was no help with cleaning the powder residues in the first place. Fortunately we discovered that WD-40, a light spray oil with a very distinctive smell, did a great job of cleaning the powder residue away.

On our first field training exercise, which involved a week living under the stars on Woodbury Common, I packed a small can of WD-40 together with my rifle cleaning kit which I used to speed the cleaning process and shared with the rest of my section. I was always careful to keep it out of sight when our equipment was inspected since I suspected that deviating from the cleaning process we had been taught could be frowned on.

The golden rule was to apply the WD-40 well before we were inspected and then cover the areas involved with the issue oil in order to mask the smell of the WD-40. Unfortunately, one morning, one of our section forgot to add issue oil, and during the inspection Colour Sergeant Inglis asked him ominously if he was using WD-40, an unauthorised oil, to clean his weapon. The Colour Sergeant explained that use of unauthorised oils and tools could damage the weapon - a very serious offence. My colleague denied that he had used any WD-40.

Confess or conceal?

This presented me with a problem. My rifle was certainly clean, but I now had to decide whether to:
  1. keep quiet and risk later discovery
  2. admit that I had some WD-40 and face the consequences
I realised that now we had been specifically told that WD-40 could be damaging I should come clean, but this would also implicate my colleague for lying (which he had done in part to protect me as the source of the WD-40).

Another part of the calculation was whether showing initiative and inventiveness (in bringing the oil) would mitigate against the crime of using a potentially damaging substance on taxpayer property (the rifle). I decided that although we were clearly encouraged to show initiative, this case was probably different since I knew that weapon care was a sacrosanct priority.

I had a quick chat with my colleague and explained that I intended to tell Colour Sergeant Inglis that I was the WD-40 culprit. He agreed that this was the best thing to do - he knew that his loyalty would count for more with the training team than the lie he had told when questioned.

Coming clean

I left the safety of the pack and went looking for Colour Sergeant Inglis. I found him nearby and said "Colour Sergeant, I have a can of WD-40 which I have been using to clean my rifle. I thought it was a good idea since it removes the powder residue very well, but I now understand that there is a possibility it might damage the rifle. I won't use it again."

Colour Sergeant Inglis glowered at me and said "Get out of my sight!" I considered this a very good result considering the alternatives I had expected, and quickly obliged!

But the subject wasn't closed. A few minutes later, Colour Sergeant Inglis called 3 Section together and led us through some gorse bushes. We suspected that we would soon be running through the gorse simulating an assault, diving into the prickly bushes to "take cover". But it didn't turn out that way. He stopped in a clearing, asked us all to sit down around him, and congratulated us: "I see real integrity in this section. Well done gentlemen." And there the matter rested. And from that time on, Colour Sergeant Inglis always seemed to trust me implicitly. Although we were often congratulated for physical effort and achievement, that was the first time that I felt I had built a little reputation for trustworthiness with a Royal Marines Senior Non-Commissioned Officer. Building on that trust (and keeping my rifle in good condition) was the most important theme of the rest of my career as a Royal Marine.

I no longer have a rifle to keep clean, but I believe that the importance of cherishing a reputation for speaking plainly and truthfully is as vital in civilian life as it is among Royal Marines. Without your reputation you are truly powerless and disarmed. It's worth being prepared to pay a very high price to protect your reputation for integrity.

This is one of a series of articles on lessons from Commando training.  Here is the full list.

1 comment:

  1. Life is full of little gems, some are words, some are people. This is an example of both in action and should be cherished.