Collateral accountability: about everyone

Lt. Col. Christopher Mardis
86th Maintenance Squadron commander

***image1***Much has been written regarding the importance of accountability – the need to accept accountability as well as the need for others to be held accountable. This principle is especially significant when applied to the military professional. We expect all members, from the most junior enlisted to the most senior officer – to accept accountability for all actions. It is one of the key foundational elements by which our actions are guided and judged. But personal accountability is not enough.

Our military’s key strength lies in not only our professionals’ individual abilities, but in their effectiveness in applying those abilities to the team effort. It is this collective effort that distinguishes our armed forces from those of other nations. Similarly, accountability should not be considered only as an individual principle. I’ve long held that it is imperative that we keep the principle of collateral accountability in mind at all times as well, to further strengthen our force’s effectiveness. Collateral accountability means simply that we are not only accountable for our own actions, but for the actions of those around us. Think for a moment: how many times have you watched as somebody did something dangerous, questionable, wrong or merely dumb? Should you have stopped that individual before it was too late?

When determining the facts following an incident, one of the first questions I ask is, “Who else was present at the time of the event?” Invariably, I’ll follow up with questions to those individuals and ask them what they were thinking, and what, if any, action they took or could have taken to stop the incident. Do I consider them accountable? You bet I do. Naturally, this will depend on the specific circumstances surrounding the event, but chances are pretty good that things could have turned out different had somebody else had the presence of mind, or presence of spine, to intervene before it was too late.

Collateral accountability should be applied universally – on duty or off. This principle may very well mean the difference between life and death, be it in combat, working on an aircraft, or downtown at a nightclub. We must assume our own respective accountability when it comes to looking out for the well-being of our fellow Airmen, Soldiers, Sailors and Marines. Can your buddy rely on you at all times? How do you know that everything’s OK with them? In sending their best and brightest to serve in our military, the families of our nation have entrusted us all with protecting its most vital resource – its people.
It’s not just about you.