Accountability builds trust

  • Published
  • By Maj. Christopher Wood, 420th Munitions Squadron Commander

Wing Commander: “Alright team, we’ve had a sharp increase in security incidents throughout the wing, and all of them could have been avoided with a little attention to detail and a focus on securing classified information. I need you to go back to your units and have a face to face with leadership teams on making sure we are treating our classified properly. We keep fumbling the ball at the goal line and that’s not what we do here in Winner’s Ville USA”

The crowd of commanders nod their heads in acknowledgment, signaling to the Wing King that his message was understood and his direction would be carried out. Among them a young captain who is an interim commander eager to discharge his duties.

Wing Commander: “Okay, now that the message is out there, let’s start the meeting, over to you, Weapons.”

The weapons movement brief commences as it does every week, the briefers present their slides, and commanders of each responsible unit give a thumbs up at the end of the brief. The young eager captain clutches the classified training documents given to him by a counterpart in the ops group, has a final word with his group commander, and heads back to his office.

The captain parks his truck, grabs his binder, and heads towards the MUNS [munitions squadron] head shed to drop off the documents in the classified safe in Munitions Control. As he enters the building, and before he can make the immediate right into control, he’s stopped by the squadron CSS [commander’s support staff].

CSS: “Sir, the MASO [Munitions Accountable Systems Officer] is on the phone for you. It sounds very urgent, I’ll put you through on your office line.”

The young captain’s mind fills with worry at what may be wrong. Is all the documentation for the movement correct? Did we get a serial number wrong? Was everyone properly certified for the weapon build for tomorrow’s delivery? The young captain places the classified binder on the desk and picks up the phone.  

MASO: “Sir, we’ve got a problem. I’ve got some discrepancies here I need you to look at and validate. If I’m reading this correctly, tomorrow’s mission can’t go without some coordination with the missile crews and ourselves.”

Captain: “Got it, I’m on my way. I’ll be there in 5.”

The captain arrives at Nuclear Accountability and Reporting Section to review the documents in question. An hour later, a solution has been found, the appropriate organizations contacted, and all required corrective actions have begun to take place across the wing.

The young captain returns to his office to finish his duty day when he sees it: the classified binder, sitting on his desk, NOT properly stored in the MUNS control safe where it should be…


I’ll admit that I don’t remember the exact words Col. Ron Allen said that day, but he did have a very specific message for us as commanders that we were to put an end to careless security violations. I remember thinking to myself, “You idiot…. The Wing King JUST gave you an order and it didn’t take you more than 90 minutes to mess it up.” My internal dialogue was a bit more colorful than that, but you get the point. 

I spent the next 30 minutes deliberating what I should do. I came up with a multitude of excuses and possible ways to sneak the classified into the appropriate areas and evade the shame (and consequences) of my mistake. On top of this, it was my unit that was responsible for a few of the security incidents over the previous months and the look was NOT good.

Spoiler Alert: I reported myself.

In the previous months those security incidents caused by my unit had been met with some pretty serious repercussions. The former commander, who I greatly admire and respect to this day, had a much harder line stance than I did on the subject, and paperwork had been given for doing exactly what I had just done. As a result, my inner dialogue turned to, “How can you expect your Airmen to do what is right, regardless of personal cost, if you aren’t willing to do so yourself? How can your Airmen trust you if you say one thing and do another?”

The conversation I had with Col. Allen that night made me feel ALMOST as little as the look of disappointment in his eyes. He was, and is, a great leader who didn’t feel a need to break you down verbally or publicly, but could crush you with a look.

In the end, I’m glad I reported myself. Maj. Andrew Slaughter used to say, “Bad news doesn’t age well.” And he’s right. When a mistake is made, finding (and giving) the truth helps us all get to the right answer faster. The longer you obfuscate the facts, the longer you allow your integrity to be bent or broken, the more the foundation of trust between Airmen erodes and ultimately fails. The positive impacts of being more truthful don’t only apply to “bad situations.” They also apply to our everyday interactions. When we can be more honest with our conversations and our intentions, it solves a lot of the “communication problems” we face on a daily basis.   

In our business there is no commodity more valuable than trust. It is the foundation of the profession of arms, and without it, we fail as an organization. Leaders at all levels have to trust that their Airmen will do the right thing, and Airmen need to trust that their leadership has their back when a mistake is made. Now, when I say “…has their back,” I do not mean, “not hold accountable.” If you are interpreting it this way, you are missing my point. It does however mean that leadership owes that Airman their time. The time it takes to assemble a team, talk through the best course of action for that particular Airman, and execute that action so that the Airmen, and more importantly the unit, TRUSTS that leadership has their best interest in mind.

So my challenge to all of us is to be a little more honest and seek more truth. Be more honest about our own intentions as well as our actions. In doing so, we will build more trust in our interpersonal relationships, in our units, across our wing, and in our communities.