Long time readers will remember my post about health assessments. I have even more ill will toward surveys and polls. Not only do they provide questionable data but the numbers can be configured to come up with nearly any outcome you like. Penn & Teller speak more profoundly on the subject here. I’m not always on board with ol’ Penn & Teller but in this instance we are in agreement. There is a great line in the second video where pollster Frank Luntz states the key to survey research is to ask a question in such a way as to get the right answer. So who decides what the right answer is? It just so happens I have an opinion.
The other day we had to take another safety survey. Surveys are particularly handy in finding out how many wise ass Marines you have in your unit. In 3/3 we had a command climate survey in which a Marine noted his 1stSgt could lift 300lbs with his teeth. Although this amused us it’s simply false. Unless he meant 300lbs of brownies, I could totally do that. It also proves anyone can make any kind of wild accusation during a blind survey.
Every survey begins by assuring us: “Responses cannot be tied to the respondent. Your responses are anonymous. Your responses are separated from your personal information (e.g., rank, gender, etc) so that your CO cannot tie the two together.” It doesn’t say that no one else will be able to connect the dots though. Being the only single, over 30, Marine 1stSgt on the island probably narrows down which comments belong to me.
Despite my misgivings at this reassurance I felt compelled to answer all the questions as accurately and honestly as I could.
After divulging all your personal information the survey asks: “Have you received Drinking and Driving training after return from deployment?” As I have a tendency to take these kinds of surveys as loudly as I can, I immediately bellowed: “No, I was able to figure it out all by myself!” I mean really, I probably spend more time talking to Marines about the idiocy associated with alcohol abuse more than any single subject.
Moving on I was able to get into the real meat of the questionnaire. These comprised of statements followed by five choices ranging from Strongly Disagree, Disagree, Neutral, Agree, and Strongly Agree. I often wonder why we get five choices instead of two: Yes and No. We live in a world where we actively create grey areas so we can confuse each other more. Heaven forbid we searched for simple black and white answers.
My actual comments on the survey are in italics. So here we go!
My supervisor assists me in reducing risks associated with off-duty and recreational activities.
Strongly Agree. I mean, he totally reminds me to look both ways before I cross the street going home. Of course, in my case my immediate supervisor is the company commander. He is also the president of our unit motorcycle club so I think my answer is legit.
My supervisor honestly cares about my safety when I am off duty.
Strongly Agree. Not only would he be pissed if he had to deal with everything by himself if I were hurt, he actually gives a rats ass what his Marines are up to off duty. This leads us to the next question.
My supervisor knows which subordinates are involved in high-risk off-duty and recreational activities.
On this one I merely put Agree. Under each question is a space to add comments so I did: I would like to think we know what everyone is up to but there is always that one who will surprise you. I would like to think we know what everyone is up to but there is always that one who will surprise you.
My command’s Off-duty and Recreational Activity Program is effective at helping me reduce personal injury.
Strongly Agree. Comments: Our Off-Duty and Recreational Activity Program is commonly known as strong NCO Leadership.
My command periodically briefs me on off-duty and recreational activity safety risks.
Strongly Agree. Comments: This is referred to as the Leadership Principle: Keep Your Marines Informed.
As a side note, I am more interested in informing Marines of off-duty and recreational activities actually available to them. Inevitably, a 1stSgt will walk through the barracks on the weekend and will find Marines with cases of beer stacked twelve high despondently playing video games. The sun will be setting over the most beautiful tropical paradises in the world and a Marine will complain there is nothing to do. So they get drunk and drive cars 130mph around hair pin turns. I try and let them know there are alternative activities which will not necessarily end in horrific, fiery, death.
Safety personnel in my command assist me in reducing risks associated with off-duty and recreational activities.
Strongly Disagree. Comments: NCOs in my command assist in reducing risks associated with off-duty recreational activity.
Safety stand downs are effective at helping me reduce off-duty and recreational activity mishaps/injuries.
Strongly Disagree. Comments: Concerned, engaged, proactive leaders are effective at helping me reduce off –duty and recreational activity mishaps/injuries.
Starting to see a trend with my answers yet?
Missing work due to an off-duty/recreational activity injury would adversely affect my command’s ability to accomplish its mission.
Neutral. Comments: I would like to think I make a significant impact but I suspect if I weren’t around the Marines would manage without me.
I am comfortable telling peers when they are behaving unsafely (e.g., endangering themselves or others).
Strongly Agree. Comments: This is called Peer Leadership. It is something I stress to all my Marines.
After answering a battery of questions about how often I participate in every conceivable fun activity on earth, the survey came to the open ended questions. My favorite!
The most significant high-risk activity I perform off duty is:
Crossing the street in Middle East traffic is nearly as hazardous as combat. No joke.
Anyone who has spent any time as a pedestrian in this part of the world would agree. Life is cheap and you better get out of the way quick.
The most significant action I could take to reduce the probability of an accident/injury associated with off-duty and recreational activities would be:
Vigilance and using sound judgment.
I suspect pollsters hate answers like that as it doesn’t involve more classroom time, rosters, or hiring more subject matter experts to reap the benefits of their cottage industry of choice.
What other measures could my command implement to reduce off-duty and recreational activity incidents/mishaps?
Adhere to time proven leadership principles like: Develop A Sense Of Responsibility Among Subordinates. Additional programs, policies, stand downs, etc., will never replace training Marines to take individual responsibility for their actions and for their peers.
It is my professional opinion that personal accountability and engaged leadership is the cure to nearly every issue we have in the military. I suppose it irks some that I think brilliant new programs aren’t the right answer. We’ve had the right answer all along. Leaders just need to get off their hind parts and execute the fundamentals of their trade.