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Discipline on, off duty: key to successful career, happier life

DAVIS MONTHAN AIR FORCE BASE, Ariz. -- Shortly after coming on active duty, I attended a commander's call in which one of the guest speakers was a legal officer. I still remember the opening line of his briefing. He said, "The four things that get Airmen in trouble more than any other are: checks, sex, drugs, alcohol and failure to go." I've never forgotten that statement and have noticed the truth in his message during my career. 

When he used the word Airmen, he was speaking to all of us. His message was simple and clear -- exercise discipline and you'll have a better chance at a successful career and happier life. So far, I've seen numerous Airmen fall victim to these "pitfalls" and lack of discipline is usually to blame. Let's elaborate on each of the pitfalls above. 

The first, checks, refers to financial irresponsibility. Years ago, most of us paid for things using checks because debit cards didn't exist. If a check bounced for insufficient funds, the first sergeant usually got a call. Today, misuse of the government travel card, not paying bills on-time and excessive debt (spending more than you earn) would constitute financial irresponsibility. Exercise fiscal discipline by sticking to a budget and developing financial goals and you'll have savings for emergencies, investments for retirement and less stress. 

The second, sex, obviously refers to inappropriate relationships. This includes fraternization, which often involves relationships that aren't of a sexual nature at all. Often, being overly friendly or the perception of favoritism between higher and lower ranking individuals leads to problems. This behavior can erode a unit's morale and be detrimental to good order and discipline. Those of us in uniform must constantly ensure that we maintain professional relationships among all ranks both on and off duty. 

The third, drugs and alcohol, are probably the most notorious of the four. As far as drugs are concerned, all of us deserve to live and work in a drug-free environment. Those who use drugs have no place in our great Air Force. With regard to alcohol, I've seen the irresponsible consumption of alcohol ruin more careers, destroy more lives, break-up more families and consume more commander and first sergeant time than any of the other pitfalls. I've been in wings before where all members paid the price for someone's drunk driving incident by way of a lost "goal" day -- valuable time that could have been spent with their families. 

The fourth, failure to go, refers to a person's inability to be where he or she is supposed to be on-time. It always amazes me how some Airmen struggle with getting to work on time, even when they live on base in the dorm. We all should understand the mission impact of missing medical, dental, chemical warfare or combat arms appointments. Lack of discipline in this area negatively effects mission readiness and can lead to a quick exit from the Air Force. 

I'm proud to belong to an organization made up of disciplined professionals who take our Air Force Core values to heart. I've learned over the years that discipline requires our constant effort and attention; otherwise, we can begin to slip in small, but noticeable ways. By continuing to develop, monitor and exercise discipline on and off duty, you will have a more successful career and much happier life.