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Progressive discipline

GOODFELLOW AIR FORCE BASE, Texas -- Have you heard the term Progressive Discipline? If so, before you read any further, take a minute and explain it to yourself (stop here and pause). Ok, let's go forth.

If you are a supervisor, I hope what you explained to yourself is contained in this article. Why? Because we can always do more to prepare our Airmen for success and the core to that is progressive discipline.

The approach is simple; to solicit a controlled behavioral response from Airmen who failed to meet standards and teach the how and why along the way. This is designed to be corrective in nature. Wow, what a concept! Get the Airmen back on track before they are on the road out the gate.

Here is one of the most underutilized tools in discipline: documentation, documentation, documentation. If something is important enough for you to think or worry about, then it is important enough to document. If you don't, it never happened in the eyes of any adjudicating authority and it will be difficult to hold the member accountable if required later in the process.

I have researched, researched and researched over the years and guess what? The Little Brown Book (Editor's note: Air Force Instruction 36-2618) gave me an answer. I flipped it open and remembered a simple three step process.

Step 1: Prevention. Everything you do as a leader helps prevent problems from occurring (walk the walk).

Step 2: Correction. Actions taken to address those who violate standards, but are not deserving of formal punishment (clarifying expectations, letting them know you are disappointed, etc.).

Step 3: Punishment (Rehabilitative tools). Punitive measures against those who repeatedly or grievously violate standards.

Where does progressive discipline start? It starts your first day of supervision and you can't soft shoe your expectations. Look them in the eye and explain consequences for not meeting your expectations. Finally, sit down and think out your initial feedback, periodic feedbacks and mid-term feedbacks. Take every opportunity to mentor. Be what you want your troops to be and be consistent with your efforts. Understand that they are always watching.

Now, I will not lecture on progressive discipline and all the tools from letters of counseling through courts martial, but I will leave you with this: your involvement in the disciplinary process is critical from prevention to punishment. Get familiar with the basic Articles of the Uniform Code of Military Justice and ask for advice when you have a troop who just isn't getting it. Don't be afraid to go hard early and often to keep your troops on track. Finally, document, document, document.