I had a chance to listen to a TED Talk by Jocko Willink recently. Jocko was the commander of the most highly decorated SEAL unit in the Iraq war. Jocko relates a story of a mission that he was in charge of that went horribly wrong. Due to confusion, chaos, bad luck, Murphy's Law and whatever else you want to call it, friendly forces began firing on friendly forces. It was never supposed to happen, but in all of the confusion and darkness, the mortal sin of combat was committed.
When it was over, one friendly Iraqi soldier was killed, one U.S. Navy SEAL was wounded and the rest of Jocko's SEAL team was badly shaken. The events of the battle were reported up the chain of command and Jocko got orders from his Commanding Officer to cease all operations. His CO and an investigator were on their way to Jocko's location for a debriefing. Jocko said there was plenty of blame to go around. As he sat and wrote every mistake, every miss-step, every blown assignment he had a name to go with each of them. But something did not sit right with him. He sat and wrestled for the answer. Ten minutes before he entered the debriefing room, the answer hit him.
Jocko was in a room with his CO, the investigator and his SEAL team, including the wounded SEAL who had his head and face bandaged. Jocko asked, "Whose fault was this?" One SEAL spoke up and said, "It was my fault. I didn't keep control of the Iraqi soldiers like I should have." Jocko said, "No, it was not your fault." Another SEAL spoke up, "It was my fault, I didn't radio our position fast enough and I caused all of the confusion." Jocko said, "No, it was not your fault." Another SEAL said, "Boss, it was my fault. I didn't properly identify my target and I killed the Iraqi soldier; it was my fault." Again, Jocko said, "No, it was not your fault. It was my fault. This whole travesty was my fault."
Jocko's CO did not loose faith in him because of what happened. In fact, he trusted him even more because he expected to hear excuses when Jocko shouldered the burden of responsibility. What impressed me most about this story was that three of his men had the courage to say in front of their leader, a military investigator and the Commanding Officer of the area, it was my fault. These men could have forfeited their military careers by taking responsibility for such an unpardonable mistake, but that did not matter to them. They examined their own actions, not those of anyone else, and said to themselves, if I had done something different this whole event would not have happened. That, to me, is amazing courage, honesty and character. Sure the U.S. Navy provided the framework for the character traits that these men displayed, but it was their leader, Jocko Willink, who lived these same traits before them day in and day out.
When we choose to follow Christ we have that same example to follow. Jesus tells us to leave behind our old selves and follow him. When we screw up, we need to take responsibility and shoulder the burden. Jesus showed us how to live, we need to follow his example and strive to be like him each and every day.