Integrity First, Last and Always

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Stephen C. Rodriguez
  • 1st Reconnaissance Squadron Commander
Our Air Force family has suffered more than its share of black eyes over the past few months, from major sexual assault scandals at Basic Training to cheating incidents at the Air Force Academy. I also have the sad duty to attend quarterly Air Combat Command fatality briefings. Almost all of the incidents briefed at those meetings were totally preventable and a horrendous waste of young lives.

If there is a common thread in nearly all of these incidents, it is that they were totally preventable if those involved had remembered our first core value as a fighting force: Integrity First. Integrity is that essential element of character which means that an individual does "the right thing" when no one is watching. It's the "no one is watching" part that makes the difference between being entrusted to do a job and simply executing a task under supervision. Certainly none of us would lie to our commander if it was apparent he or she knew the truth, but the Air Force and nation expects more out of us.

As members of the armed service, we are expected to maintain our personal honor at all times, even if it comes at a great personal cost, or to execute orders without being supervised, or to lay down our lives for our country if that's what's demanded.

Integrity is one of those things which sets apart the profession of arms from most other "jobs" out there. The outside world's current culture encourages "me" thinking and doing whatever you want to do, especially if it feels good at the time. People are encouraged and praised for "going rogue" or breaking the rules in an attempt to maintain their personal identity or act out some repressed rebellion within themselves. Doubtless, the Air Force members involved in the aforementioned scandals rationalized their actions, knowing they were breaking the rules and sacrificing their integrity, but doing it anyway while hiding under the fig leaf of current societal norms.

But the expectations for the profession of arms are different! We are expected to do our duty when required, whether it's to fly our airplanes into Missile Engagement Zones, repel Taliban attacks, handle food properly to ensure everyone coming through the chow hall doesn't get sick or ensure that Joint Operations Planning and Execution System sample gets done so the jet flies safely the next day. All of these things demand integrity in our actions. This nation, our profession and your fellow servicemembers depend on your integrity to do your part of the mission so that we all succeed together in our sacred duty to " and defend the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic..."

So, the next time you're tempted to cut corners because no one will ever know, or to have that drink before driving home because you'll never be caught or to take advantage of someone because you think you can, think "Integrity, first, last and always." You'll be glad you did, and so will I. As a commander and Air Force member, I would be glad to never hear of another scandal, sexual assault, DUI or needless death. Sadly, I'm sure those being charged with wrongdoing in the scandals above agree with me. I'm sure they now wish they had done the right thing when they had the chance.