In Men We Trust

“In God we trust; all others must bring data” is a statement attributed to Edwards Deming, the management guru who taught quality movement to Japanese industry. “In God we trust” was also adopted as the official motto of the United States in 1956.  Its Spanish equivalent, “En Dios Confiamos,” is the motto of the Republic of Nicaragua.

Deming would have spoken in the context of quality assurance, where measurements and evidences play a vital role. However, in our day-to-day transactions with our fellow beings, do we have to give data and evidences before being trusted? Every time? That would be sad. I would rather trust people and be right most of the times and accept being deceived occasionally.

This value is a result of the trust others have reposed in me since my early childhood. There are several incidences I remember, but want to share a striking one.

Indian Navy has several ships bought from Russia (the USSR). In these ships, Navy follows the manning pattern followed in Russia and the entire crew of the ship changes together  unlike in other ships. In 1985, I joined as part of the second crew of INS Ranjit, with another 600 people. Captain AR Dabir joined  as the commanding officer of the ship. My main role was to maintain surface to air missile systems, the main punch of the ship.

In April 1985, we shipmates were getting to know each other while working as a team. Then, a major exercise was planned that would be observed by the Prime Minister, sailing on board INS Vikrant, the aircraft carrier.  When the P.M. comes, the defence minister would accompany, his deputies, concerned officers from bureaucracy, chiefs of army, navy and air force staff, the press … It is a big jamboree with several events planned to show case the might of the Navy.

Our ship was designated to fire one anti-air missile to demonstrate a prime capability of the Navy. At the scheduled time of 0400 a missile boat fired a surface-to-surface missile to be a target for the surface-to-air missile.  Our systems were well tuned and the team was confident. The commanding officer ordered ‘fire’ and the operator pressed the button. Our missile left its launcher and nose dived to the sea within meters from the ship. The C.O. ordered to fire the next missile, which too faced the same fate. A missile is as expensive as a small aircraft. Though our annual practice allowances were two missiles, we fired four missiles in all. None of them went far from the ship. Then the standby firing ship launched one and hit the target dead-on.

Our ship’s morale was in the lowest ebb. We had failed in the eyes of the P.M. of the country and his full entourage. Such incidence could mean end of career for several people in a very hierarchical set up.

Crestfallen, the gunnery officer and I went to the bridge expecting a strong dressing-down by the captain and unable to think of other consequences, numb with the shock of the events. We had not spent much time in the ship for the captain to know about our professional capability and professionalism.

In the bridge we saw calm and composed Captain Dabir. All he said was, “Boys, I know that you have done your best. Something external has caused the missiles to ditch. Let us get on to finding out that.” I cannot imagine any other person in his position to say this, so naturally, with much dignity. He owned the full responsibility for the disaster and did not blame anyone. The immense trust he showed made me speechless. During the next one month, with a few trials at sea, we proved that the standby ship had switched on their missile system’s command transmitter and in effect misguided our missile. This was not allowed as per operations manual – but was a reminder that such actions out of anxiety can be disastrous during a war.

Subsequently during the 18 months tenure of our crew, the ship did extremely well in all the exercises. The most coveted trophy we won was “The Ship with Best Spirit.”  From that eventful day of missile firing till the untimely death of Captain Dabir in Dec 1990, he remained my guide and mentor and a cheerleader for every little achievement of mine.

As I write these paragraphs, I am emotionally charged, yet again.

Captain Dabir – in men he trusted.

Abou Ben Adhem (may his tribe increase!)
Awoke one night from a deep dream of peace,
And saw, within the moonlight in his room,
Making it rich, and like a lily in bloom,
An angel writing in a book of gold:—
Exceeding peace had made Ben Adhem bold,
And to the Presence in the room he said
“What writest thou?”—The vision raised its head,
And with a look made of all sweet accord,
Answered “The names of those who love the Lord.”
“And is mine one?” said Abou. “Nay, not so,”
Replied the angel. Abou spoke more low,
But cheerily still, and said “I pray thee, then,
Write me as one that loves his fellow men.”

The angel wrote, and vanished. The next night
It came again with a great wakening light,
And showed the names whom love of God had blessed,
And lo! Ben Adhem’s name led all the rest.

–           James Henry Leigh Hunt

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About pgbhat

A retired Naval Officer and an educationist. Has experience with software industry. A guest faculty at different institutes and a corporate trainer with software development companies.
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