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Do we need a fourth core value?

BUCKLEY AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- As Col. John Wagner, 460th Space Wing commander, has mentioned at the last Wing Commander's Conference, there was discussion of adding a fourth element to our existing core values. 

Joining the line-up of Integrity First, Service before Self and Excellence in All We Do would be a fourth value, Respect. The issue driving this discussion is the ongoing occurrence of sexual assault and harassment in the Air Force, a problem we share with our sister services, and the nation as a whole.  If even a single sexual assault occurs, if even a single Airman believes that he or she can take advantage of another person, I believe that we have failed to communicate how such behavior is contradictory to our current values and what it means to be an Airman.

I believe that we do have a respect problem in the Air Force. I also believe that this problem will not be fixed by adding another core value, but by recommitting ourselves to our existing core values. Perhaps we do not talk about it enough, or talk about it directly enough, but respect is inherent to being an Airman and to each of our core values. 

Our first core value, Integrity First, calls on us to do the right thing all the time, whether people are watching or not, whether we are in uniform or not, whether we are drinking or not, whether we think we can get away with it or not.  Harassing, demeaning, belittling or assaulting another human being, particularly a fellow Airman, is never the right thing. Even our jokes can be offensive or harmful and we all have an obligation to ensure that no one we know or work with crosses the line from funny to offensive. If we are offended we must speak up so that the offender can correct their behavior and does not equate our silence with acceptance of offensive behavior. If we observe offensive or demeaning conduct, we too must speak up to correct the behavior and empower those around us to speak up as well. Ignoring anything that could harm another Airman is a blatant failure of our first value.

Our second core value, Service Before Self, calls us to put our duty to our nation, the Air Force and our fellow Airmen ahead of our own selfish desires. When the desire for gratification has even the slightest chance of harming another person or the cohesiveness of the Air Force, Service Before Self has been seriously violated. Joking can build camaraderie and morale, but we should all be alert to any activity crossing a line that makes some feel left out or rejected. Our service is too small, and our mission too important, to allow selfishness to interfere with anyone's full participation in the mission. I tell new people to the MDG that no one should ever make fun of them, or make them feel bad about their race, religion, gender or sexual orientation, and that the only thing we should tease each other about is our choice of sports teams. This leaves me, as a Bengals fan, open to a fair amount of good natured abuse.

Our final core value, Excellence in All We Do, calls us to be the best Airmen we can be.  It calls us to continue to make ourselves better, our units better, and those around us better, so that we can execute our missions and serve our nation as well as possible. In the Airman's Creed we all state, as Airmen, "I will never leave an Airman behind, I will never falter and I will not fail." When we fail in our pursuit of excellence, by allowing a fellow Airman to be hurt emotionally, physically or sexually, or by not actively protecting them from such harm, we are not just leaving Airmen behind, we are deliberately throwing them away.  We detract from their potential to serve, we fail our unit, the mission and the nation.

By embracing the respect for others inherent in our Air Force Core Values, by not tolerating disrespect for others, by refusing to put our desires above the needs of others, and by striving for excellence for ourselves and others, we cannot only eliminate the need for a fourth core value, we can eliminate sexual assault, harassment, discrimination and make our Air Force and nation both better and stronger.
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