The Health and Welfare Inspection

The Health and Welfare Inspection

Leadership article by: Tom Rozman

The command had the previous day introduced a program attempting to reduce the drug use and related level of Criminal Investigation Division (CID) work in the command.  The program had been developing for a time in an effort to reduce the impact of drug abuse among the troops.

An essential element of the program granted prosecutorial amnesty to soldiers who voluntarily reported their abuse to their first sergeants. The soldiers were also required to provide the first sergeant all associated paraphernalia and substances and volunteer for a rehabilitation program that had been developed as part of the initiative.

The timing of the program’s initiation would have an unfortunate effect in one case. A company of a cavalry battalion assigned to an installation affected by the initiative had timed an unannounced health and welfare inspection for early in the morning of the day the amnesty program began.  The result and its ramifications would inform leader conduct in several ways.

Health and welfare inspections in the barracks at the time had several purposes.  Overall, they ensured that the chain of command had a sense of conditions in the barracks at unannounced times.  Of primary concern were maintenance of the barrack squad bays and rooms and especially the presence of any banned contraband such as weapons, flammables and illegal substances.  Typically, the inspections in the cavalry company did not surface major issues, even in the circumstances of the times.  The unit’s general approach to leadership, troop engagement, genuine support of troop well being, the busy mission schedule and fair application of discipline insured that the company was a sound and capable unit that always performed mission very well with few disciplinary issues.

In this environment the inspection got underway early after sunrise on a Monday morning.  All of the company’s platoon level leaders simultaneously began their unannounced inspections.  The company executive officer, a 1st lieutenant, who oversaw the company’s administrative, maintenance, signal, and supply/arms room/nuclear-biological-chemical sections troops began his inspection in an 8 man squad bay where soldiers from the maintenance section were billeted.

The bay was configured with an entry door off of a main hallway of the barrack building’s first floor.  The bay room was a large room some 25 feet wide by 30 feet deep.  On the opposite side of the room windows spanned that side of the room starting at waist level.   To create a sense of division and privacy on either side of the room, a chest high divider wall bisected each side of the room into four equal sub-bays.  These walls extended out about 8 feet toward the center of the bay.

In each sub-bay, a steel frame bunk bed was positioned on the left and right side of the sub-bay with a large built in double locker/drawer situated off the wall centered between the bunks.  This furniture was lockable by the soldier for security of personal items.

Because of the timing on the training schedule, the soldiers assigned to the bay were in the bay following the breakfast meal before the first formation. The lieutenant approached the door of the bay knocked and entered announcing the inspection and instructing the soldiers to unlock and open their lockers.  He then immediately moved to the sub-bay on the left, inspecting the general area then the open locker.

He continued this operation for the second soldier’s locker then started to move around the partial dividing wall.  As he walked around the end of the wall he noted movement by the private occupying the last locker on the opposite side of the bay.  The soldier was desperately gathering items from his locker.  The lieutenant immediately moved toward the soldier who on his approach gathered up several suspicious items and moved quickly to the door of the bay.  The lieutenant ordered the private to halt.

The barrack was a three story brick building in an arrangement of same buildings capable of housing two battalions arranged around a central parade with smaller buildings on one flank of the parade for two battalion headquarters offices and battalion staff section offices.  Each barrack building contained two companies, each company occupying one half of the building.

The barrack building had a wider central section that contained the eight man squad bay rooms.  It had two narrower wings at each end of the building organized into single and two man NCO rooms.  The interior walls were painted cinderblock.

On the first floor of the narrow wing of the barrack, the end of the wing contained the company offices with the orderly room occupying the far corner room down the long hallway of the wing. This hallway exited a large open area accessed by the barrack entry doors on both sides of the company’s half of the building’s central section.  This common area was where the company bulletin boards and other troop information and services material were located and it served as a lounge and meeting area for authorized visitors.  On the interior to the parade ground side of the barrack, the company’s large and well set up company day room opened from the lounge area.

From this common area a large hallway also opened to the wider central section of the barrack where the squad bays on the opposite side of the building were located.  On the first floor, squad bays were only configured on the outward side of the building, the day room occupying as mentioned the other parade ground side of the building.  The maintenance section occupied the first bay in the central section hallway that was a short distance from the lounge area that accessed the wing hallway to the orderly room.  With a few partial turns a short distance of some  40-50 feet stretched from the door of the bay to the door of the orderly room.

The lieutenant as mentioned had noticed the suspicious behavior of the private, immediately moving in the private’s direction.  The private sprang for the door with his paraphernalia.  The lieutenant as noted ordered the soldier to halt.  The private rapidly moved into the hallway and started to run toward the lounge. The lieutenant followed immediately behind with a sergeant following behind him.  The private having a head start reached the hallway of the building wing before the lieutenant could apprehend him.  The lieutenant again ordered him to halt.

The lieutenant apprehended the private at the orderly room door—a Dutch door.  In company of the sergeant, the items the private had secured and carried with him were seized.  In the event, the evidence was sufficient to bring charges against the private under the Uniform Code of Military Justice.  Charges were preferred.  The events of the situation had been witnessed by other soldiers of the section for that part that had occurred in the squad bay. The following sergeant during the chase in the barrack hallway and the first sergeant and other orderly room personnel witnessed the pursuit and apprehension.

As the administration of the charges progressed the soldier’s defense counsel made the argument that the soldier had intended to avail himself of the amnesty and the timing of the inspection and subsequent apprehension interfered with his ability to do so.  Ultimately, a decision was made to not prosecute and allow the soldier to enter the amnesty program.

Several months later, the company was notified by the San Antonio Police Department that the soldier had been hospitalized in critical condition after a severe beating at a then vacant athletic stadium in the city.  The soldier had apparently been a drug distributer and had failed to pay his suppliers when he met them at the stadium.  The soldier never returned to duty.

From a leadership perspective, the company level leaders did do their duty.  They did apply those proper mechanisms of leadership necessary to maintain standards of discipline for organizational members not so inclined.  The upper levels of organizational leadership were also oriented on doing what needed to be done.  That said, the stresses and forces working on the system were complex and even the best leadership approaches could be confounded.  As well, human frailty, in this case substance abuse and criminally dealing in substances, added to the complexity and stress.  Perhaps the decision to allow the private into the amnesty program at the conflicting confluence of the local versus the intended more global strategy wasn’t the right decision.  Events as they played out did not work well for the private.

Regardless, the company’s leadership actions demonstrated that soldiers outside the standard would be dealt with forthrightly—a good strong signal that paid dividends in maintaining the best possible good order and discipline at the time.  The form of leadership at higher levels that allowed the amnesty to go forward had, as noted, mixed results, one in the event being again the close to death situation experienced by the private in this case.

Not all leadership situations have clear indications of what to do to achieve best results.  At such times core principles of character, training and experience have to be tapped into.   But always, the effective leader must provide firm direction and as much sureness as possible.