Integrity First in the 21st Century

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Philip Acquaro
  • 42nd Electronic Combat Squadron commander
"Integrity is the fundamental premise for military service in a free society. Without integrity, the moral pillars of our military strength, public trust and self-respect are lost." - Gen. Charles A. Gabriel

Integrity First, Service Before Self, and Excellence in All We Do are the core values that are the foundation of our U.S. Air Force and what establishes us as a profession, separate from a job or occupation.

As General Gabriel stated, integrity is the keystone because it facilitates trust to accomplish the mission we have sworn an oath to execute: defend our nation.

Over the last decade, our society has been riddled with questionable integrity in both the military and civilian communities. The military has been rocked by the Abu Ghraib Prison scandal, Wiki-leaks, sexual assault policy concerns and General Petraeus' affair; while the civilian world has suffered through the ENRON scandal, Madoff's Ponzi Scheme and steroid use by high profile athletes like Barry Bonds, Alex Rodriguez and most recently Lance Armstrong. These integrity breaches make a dramatic, yet short splash in the headlines, but leave a lasting impression on our Airmen. It is our charge as commanders to ensure Airmen understand an integrity breach is not acceptable, because it is detrimental to our wingman, mission and ultimately to society.

The focus on integrity in the military is not new. Prior to the Cold War, British General S.L.A Marshall expressed; "A man has integrity if his interest in the good of the service is at all times greater than his personal pride, and when he holds himself to the same line of duty when unobserved as he would follow if his superiors were present."

In short, we, as servicemen, must hold ourselves to higher standards at all times. Technology has increased the observation time period as everyone is a reporter through YouTube, cell phones and Facebook. We are always being watched and we must make sure our Airmen are cognizant of that fact.

We must adjust the Facebook generation's expectation that social sites are anonymous and private, when in reality they are public. Comments, pictures, blogs, Facebook pages, etc. are for public consumption. Additionally, we must remind them public actions can be videotaped. Events such as public intoxication, destruction of property, reckless driving, physical or verbal altercations easily can end up on the evening news or radio station.

As leaders, we must continue to educate them on what is acceptable in these social media forums and in public places. In short, they should follow the rule, if they would not make the statement or act that way in front of their supervisor, parents or significant other, then it should not be posted or the action should not be taken. Integrity is more than acting and speaking correct, it is doing the right thing.

We must lead the way as observed by General Colin Powell, "The most important thing I learned is that soldiers watch what their leaders do. You can give them classes and lecture them forever, but it is your personal example they will follow."

I am sure we all did things in our past that were questionable. We all have stories that are only told in certain company, but those are experiences that made us who we are. I will also guarantee we maintained our integrity through these incidents. I do not advocate we, as commanders, live in a glass house or on a pedestal, but we must keep integrity first and uphold the standards at all times.

Additionally, we are charged to encourage our subordinates to experience life and sustain steadfast integrity, so they can replace us as leaders. This can be accomplished through grass roots mentoring and begins with the first line supervisors.

We as commanders, and our supervisors, are charged to make the smart decisions, the right decisions, the tough decisions and we must take the time to mentor those around us to do the same. In the operational world, informal mentorship has decreased as Airmen are reluctant to hang around after formal flight debriefs or after work on Friday in the heritage room due to changes in the social stigma and acceptable drinking practices.

This AF cultural shift is not bad; we just need to develop alternate ways to find time to mentor. This will be unit and personality specific, but one suggestion is to have supervisor calls one Friday a month at 1400 to ask questions, talk about current events, careers and leadership situations. It does not matter how mentoring is accomplished, just that it is accomplished.

We set the integrity standards with our actions and must invest the time to mentor Airmen on the importance of integrity in the profession of arms.

As General Gabriel implies, integrity is the moral shield that provides the military latitude to accomplish our mission to defend the nation against all enemies.