On integrity

  • Published
  • By Senior Master Sgt. Michael Freeman
  • 460th Space Communications Squadron
Why do the Air Force's Core Values begin with "Integrity First?" As former Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force Eric Benken said, "Integrity is the essential element or the foundation on which other values are built. Integrity means being honest with others as well as with yourself. It means doing what's right at all times. Integrity remains the very bedrock of the military profession. Service members possessing integrity will always do what's right, regardless of the circumstances, even when no one is looking. We will make no compromise in being honest in small things as well as great ones."

As a young Airman during the early 1990s, the Air Force trusted me to work with nuclear weapons. I learned back then just how important personal integrity was. I knew how much my organization counted on me to not make mistakes during daily maintenance, or not allow a mistake to go uncorrected. It was imperative that I followed every step of my technical orders to the very best of my ability, without the slightest deviation.

Preserving integrity was ingrained in me by the words and actions of my supervisors and commanders, so I understood that if I failed to do the right things the possible consequences could be catastrophic. Given the significance of the mission, I devoted a great deal of time learning everything I could about the system placed at my finger tips. I familiarized myself with every aspect of it and strived to take care of it to the very best of my abilities. If I wasn't sure what to do, I asked questions. If I made a mistake, I spoke up and sought guidance. It was mine. I owned it, and I felt compelled to do what I knew was right. I may not have thought much about it at the time, but in retrospect, I realize now just how important having personal integrity was.

It's now many years later. I have a few extra stripes, accompanied by many, many white hairs. No longer am I expected to maintain and support the same weapons I once did. Just like every enlisted supervisor in the Air Force, I'm charged with supporting an even more important weapon - our Airmen - and this too begins with personal integrity.

We all make thousands of decisions each day. Many of our choices have over-arching implications. Those choices may affect whether or not the mission gets accomplished successfully. They may also have implications as to whether a young Airman is successful on a professional or personal level. With each decision made, with every word spoken, with every action taken, our personal integrity is measured.

During a recent commanders' call, Lt. Col. Delbert Jones II, 460th Space Communications Squadron commander, told his Airmen, "always measure twice so you can cut once." He was right. When we measure what we're doing and why we're doing it, and then make sure it's coming from the right place we will always be successful. Our supervisors and commanders will know that we're giving our level best because our motives and intentions are obvious. Our junior ranking will be even more willing to follow our lead because the expectations will already be clear. Integrity breeds trust!

Integrity is a character trait. It's the moral compass, that inner voice, the voice of self-control, and the basis for the trust that's so imperative in today's military. Integrity is the foundation for everything we do and that is why it's the number one Core Value of our Air Force!