At first glance, the question presented in the title is both insulting and ludicrous. Most leaders would scoff at the very suggestion that their superstar mechanic or exemplary electrician is anything less than the pinnacle of personal responsibility with all the answers. The natural answer is, “Of course these Sailors can take care of themselves.” These leaders would only be partially right. The truth is, many of these young Sailors have never been away from home before. They enlisted in the military and from boot camp to their first assignment, every action, every project, every task is conducted with a procedure, an experienced Sailor to supervise, and a fair amount of forceful back-up to ensure the job is done right the first time.
But what about at home? When that Sailor goes home, there’s no written procedure to inform him that his checking account is low. In many cases, the Sailors don’t discuss these subjects with their parents, so it never occurs to them to research and discover that they are entitled to one free credit report from each of the major credit monitoring bureaus, and that the process is literally a few keystrokes on their laptop. The example above is not fictional; this is an actual issue that I discovered last week with a member who recently reported to my command.
This Sailor had never applied for a credit card, didn’t know anything about credit scores, and didn’t realize that the interest rate on his used car purchase was ridiculously high. After sitting down with him and showing him the financial tools available, as well as explaining the various aspects of personal finance, he implemented the suggestions given to him. He now has a credit card, knows how to get his free credit reports, and is working to improve his credit score enough to refinance his car loan to a reasonable rate. More importantly, he proactively seeks guidance and advice on life skills he isn’t sure of, and his quality of life improves with each new bit of knowledge he gleans from others.
This is one example of the pitfalls that Naval leaders must discuss with their Sailors to arm them with the appropriate tools and life skills to ensure they succeed at home and on duty. Naval leaders must talk to their Sailors and learn more about them. Based on those candid discussions, they may find that a little advice on finances or on ensuring that something as simple ensuring car maintenance is being kept up to date can improve their Sailors’ lives dramatically.