I’ve only been here since last summer, it’s already been a phenomenal tour. In fact, one of the best parts of my job has been the opportunity to meet with multiple units, both virtually and in person. During our conversations, we've discussed subjects like readiness, extremism, leadership, social unrest, and inclusion. We've often referenced our core values, the Coast Guardsman's Creed, the Coast Guard Ethos, and the oaths of office and enlistment. We've talked about the things that make a good leader, a good person and a good Coastie.
It reminded me of my father, and how he would always talk about how important it was to “keep your word.” He would always say, “Your word is your bond.” It didn’t make much sense at the time, but as I grew up, I eventually began to understand it was about our promises having real value. To me, "keeping your word" means keeping my promises; it means making sure that when I say I'm going to do something, I follow through.
For me, the Creed, the oaths, the Ethos and the core values provide a template for me to strive toward - they are reminders of the bond I have with my country, my fellow citizens, my service, and my shipmates. It is a reminder of the trust others place in me, and my obligation to be, do, and act as I promised I would. It's hard and it's a marathon. And it's like the trackline I need to follow in order to achieve my goals. I think most of us endeavor to be on that trackline. Now, with every trackline, there is what we in the boatswain mate world call a "cross-track error,” otherwise known as wiggle room. We need that cross-track error; we're human, and we all make mistakes that take us slightly off track.
Over time we've become more focused on staying between the edges instead of striving to stay on track-there's a very subtle but important difference. That focus slowly changes the way we see differences between right and wrong. The wiggle room was intended to help us get back to center. Instead, I see us using that wiggle room as additional space to maneuver in and forgetting about coming back to center. The result is that we focus on not being the worst, not being wrong or not breaking our promises. We focus on what not to do, who NOT to be, and what NOT to say or think. We focus on how not to break the rules. This focus on not hurts us. It dilutes our direction, our purpose, our confidence, and our determination. We get used to saying, “So long as I don’t…I’ll be okay.” Do we really want to settle for just “okay?”
When the line is that wide, it can look like there’s lots of freedom to maneuver, but then the room for error becomes absolutely minimal. That’s what happens when we shift focus instead on the edges; we get used to operating so close to it, that before we know it, we’ve crossed a line we never should have.
Spending time off track within the wiggle room area will not break your promises, but it will stress relationships. It will not break trust, but it will also not engender it. It is a neutral state where relationships don’t grow stronger, trust is not greater, and confidence is not built. It is a state in which the only thing we stand to gain is greater risk. We need to remember the value of our promises. I recall my Dad’s words, and I’m reminded that the spirit of the promise was to know that, although I have wiggle room, the hope is never to use it unless necessary to get back to center.
I challenge you to take a different approach; shift the focus from the maneuver space afforded by the cross-track error, and instead, keep your eyes on the trackline. The oaths, core values, Ethos and Creed are the trackline; they are what I use to get back to center. They provide a path for you to follow, and for you to inspire those around you. Staying on the trackline gets you to your goal.
In my 26 years, I’ve never seen a stronger set of leaders to take us to the next level, especially here in D14. I’m inspired by these men and women who continue to make the Coast Guard an exceptional organization, and I am so proud to be a part of it.
Master Chief Petty Officer Charlie Salls
Command Master Chief