Joint Base Charleston


Integrity - doing the right thing even when ... everyone's watching?

By 1st Lt. Melissa Boatwright | 1st Combat Camera | March 20, 2013

JOINT BASE CHARLESTON, S.C. -- Integrity First: The Air Force's first core value is defined as doing the right thing even when no one is looking, but, is that really when our moral compass is tested ... in the safety of solitude, when there is no pressure to conform and no opportunity to be judged?


Other times, our integrity is tested for all to see.

I was walking through a crowded subway platform and saw an Air Force member, in uniform, taking a picture of someone crouched next to a homeless man. From my vantage point, it appeared the two were mocking the man. As an Air Force officer, I was concerned for the Airman. Was he poking fun at a man who was already down on his luck? Did he know how his actions appeared to others? I wondered, but I didn't stop to ask.

As often happens during times when our integrity is publically tested, we tell ourselves it's none of our business, we don't know the details or we're being unfair. The truth is we don't want to make a scene, to be judged, to be wrong and embarrassed.

It's been months, and I continue to replay the event. I should have stopped. I should have asked what was happening. If the answer was anything less than honorable, I could have used it as a teaching opportunity for the Airman. We sometimes forget that these moments allow us the opportunity to reinforce the value and importance we all have in maintaining our legacy. We can use these opportunities to remind one another that when we wear the Air Force uniform, a uniform that thousands have died while wearing in defense of our country, we represent everyone who has ever worn the uniform. If we don't protect the honor that our uniform represents, who will?

Since I didn't say anything, I will never know if this Airman was tarnishing our honor or not. However, I do know, in that moment, I did not act with integrity. I did not do the right thing; not because no one was watching, but because everyone was.

Doing the right thing when no one is looking is hard, but doing the right thing when people are looking is harder. It's so much easier to silently walk by when something could or should be corrected. Integrity first isn't about doing the easy thing; it's about doing the right thing because that's what's expected of us. That's what our fellow Airmen and country need from us. So this year, I renewed my commitment to Integrity First no matter who is watching. I hope you'll join me.

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