Integrity's Wingman

  • Published
  • By Chief Master Sgt. William J. Cavenaugh
  • Air Force Recruiting Service Command Chief
"If your friends jumped off a bridge, would you do that, too?"

That's what my mom used to ask me when I was a kid and in trouble for doing something I shouldn't have done. Somehow I thought explaining that my friends did it as well made it OK.

I was wrong - boy, was I wrong! I alone was responsible for my actions because I knew better. I knew right from wrong but couldn't find the courage to "do the right thing." It's funny how this dynamic still applies to us as adults - as Airmen.

The first obligation of every Airman is to "do the right thing." I've said this before in emails, blogs and tweets that I've sent out. In fact, as I've discussed integrity during flight chief and health professions courses, as well as squadron annuals this year, I've become convinced that the Airmen of AFRS understand and have internalized this message. It's understood that we should "do the right thing" and that we should do it even when "no one else is looking."

But what about when others are looking ... participating ... LEADING even?

Leading a fellow Airman astray is one of the most despicable things an informal or formal leader can do. We all must understand however, that the Airman being led is, as I was as a kid, responsible for his or her own actions. Despite what someone else may be doing, he or she must "do the right thing."

Integrity alone won't always help see an Airman through this type of challenge though. This type of challenge requires Airmen to find a way to summon integrity's wingman - courage.

You see it's a lot easier to make the right call when you are the only one affected by the decision. It's actually a lot easier to "do the right thing" when no one else is looking. It's extremely difficult, however, 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 - courage enables and strengthens integrity.

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 YOUR best interest at heart. Good wingmen and especially good leaders don't operate that way. If it happens though, your personal obligation as an Airman DOES NOT change.

Your actions, however, WILL require courage because unfortunately you will not only have to abstain but you will also have to report any wrong doing you are aware of. It WILL be difficult. Your first obligation however, is to summon integrity's wingman and "do the right thing" - great Airman first!