Commentary by Lt. Col. Michael Wulfestieg
21st Space Operations Squadron commander
A lot has been written throughout the years about Air Force Core Values, and the importance of not only knowing, but living them. This is a popular topic of professional military education graduations, special events and commentary articles. However, continuous discussion of some foundational topics is important, especially when such repetition helps to highlight the many positive aspects of a value like “integrity,” as opposed to being lulled into thinking the all-too-frequent negative examples in daily life or widely reported in the media are the only “reality.”
George Washington highlighted his perspective in the comment, “I hope I shall possess firmness and virtue enough to maintain what I consider the most enviable of all titles, the character of an honest man.” Author Douglas Adams once said, “To give real service you must add something, which cannot be bought or measured with money, and that is sincerity and integrity.”
That is precisely what we do, whether in uniform or civilian clothes, when we commit to supporting the Department of Defense we serve.
How important is having integrity as a part of that service? Some would argue it makes all the difference, between being interested and committed. Therefore, it is of little surprise that in the Air Force, we emphasize it as our core value, Integrity First, upon which all else is built.
So where do we look for role models and examples of this key trait? Hopefully, not too far. In my experience, I have seen it when Airmen step up and admit that they may have made a poor decision, and now they need help in mitigating the damage or dealing with the consequences, instead of pretending it didn’t happen. Other times, it has been a supervisor who laid all the available facts out on the table, to include all the knowns and unknowns, and didn’t try to cover up any gaps in the information or didn’t share partial information to make the message more palatable. I personally like the anonymous quote, “It is far better to be trusted and respected than it is to be liked.”
Don’t limit your search for examples to your supervisors or fellow Airmen in your workplace. Take note of that little league parent who stands up to an unruly fan and reminds them to stop being rude to the officials and players. It might not be easy to confront that individual, especially one being loud and boisterous, but it is the right thing to do, for the rest of the fans and obviously for the players. Or how about that grocery clerk at the express lane who asks a customer to pick a different cashier because they have too many items? That definitely isn’t the simple choice, it probably isn’t the fastest choice, and it very likely leads to at least a couple of raised voices of frustration, but it is the right choice. As stated by World War II veteran Peter Scotese, “Integrity is not a 90 percent thing, not a 95 percent thing; either you have it or you don’t,” and based on his experience, along with a Bronze Star and two Purple Hearts, I think he’s figured it out.
As for other instances in the work environment, daily situations are all around us. As a self-inspection program manager, your commander is relying on you to thoroughly understand your governing instructions and to openly report all discrepancies, even if that means more work for you to fix any problems you find. Don’t forget that person who was too distracted this morning to render proper customs and courtesies during reveille. If you notice the mistake, then regardless of your rank, you need to respectfully remind them that it isn’t optional. It is obvious the right first step is to hold yourself accountable, to the best of your ability, but you also need to take advantage of opportunities to help others. Recognizing the difference between integrity and duplicity is a must.
I ask that you not take this as a soap-box speech, and understand that by no means am I saying (or even implying) that any one of us is above reproach. We are all human. However, there is an attitude and perspective that each of us needs to instill daily in ourselves and those around us; even the simple jobs need to be done right, regardless of how monotonous they might be. Of course, there may be more than one right way, or there may be a need to follow the accepted change process to make a new right way, but don’t let yourself think for a moment that the wrong way is acceptable, even just once.
There is a Japanese proverb that sums it up perfectly, “The reputation of a thousand years may be determined by the conduct of one hour.”
How do you want people to remember your character?