As a kid my dad always asked me questions he already knew the answers to, testing my integrity throughout my childhood. As a strict military father, he taught me at an early age that a man’s word is everything, and as I grew older, it developed into having integrity in every aspect of life. The first core value of every Airman is integrity, which I define as doing the right thing, and that we should do it even when no one else is looking.
But what about when others are looking, participating and leading? The most recent example of an integrity breakdown is the cheating scandal at Malmstrom Air Force Base, Montana, involving 92 officers or one-fifth of the entire Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles force. This scandal involved individuals from all levels, from junior officers to midlevel commanders. As the facts of the investigations became public it was determined that the nuclear missile community allowed a culture of cheating and possibly even fostered it at key leadership roles.
This leads me to believe that in certain situations it’s a lot easier to do the right thing when you are the only one affected by the decision. With no one to confront, it potentially makes it a lot easier to do the right thing when no one else is looking. However, it’s extremely difficult for many Airmen to do the right thing when a fellow Airman is leading them down the wrong path. It takes courage to hold one’s integrity together under these circumstances, but that’s exactly what must be done.
Let me quote one of the founding fathers of the Air Force, Gen. Hap Arnold, when he addressed the importance of integrity in his 1942 book “Army Flyer.”
He said, “It is an unwritten law, but as binding as the unwritten common law in the English system of jurisprudence, that an officer’s word can be depended on to be the absolute truth. The military profession takes great pride in its reputation in this regard and its senior professionals never forgive any deviation. In my view, the fact that such deviations may still exist should be of great concern to all of us in the military.”
This hits close to home with the career field I’m in. When an NCO or a maintenance officer signs off a write-up in the aircraft forms, the air crew accepts their word and their signature that the aircraft is safe and ready for flight. In my opinion it’s one of the ultimate acts of trust and integrity.
Bottom line is no one has the right to force you to compromise your integrity, and if someone puts you in that situation then he or she certainly doesn’t have you or the Air Force’s best interest at heart. Good wingmen and especially great leaders do not operate that way. If it happens it’s your personal obligation as an Airman to do the right thing when it might not be the easy thing to do.