Joint Base Charleston


Integrity; will it be a part of your legacy?

By Col. Richard Gay | 315th Maintenance Group commander | March 10, 2015


At Joint Base Charleston, thousands of tasks must be accomplished every day to launch one C-17 Globemaster III aircraft.  We expect our maintainers performing these tasks to abide by the core values we all subscribe to as Airmen:  Integrity first, Service before self and Excellence in all we do.  In almost every instance, adherence to these values is readily apparent in the amazing accomplishments achieved throughout our maintenance complex. 

But what do we do about those rare failures where our core values are compromised?  What happens when the excellence we strive for is not achieved?  In most cases, the consequences are minor; however, the critical and potentially dangerous nature of the work we do can make costly damage to equipment, serious injury or even loss of life a very real possibility.  Obviously, no one wants to do poor work that could result in injuries but we are all human and, therefore, fallible. We all have unique stressors or distractions which may draw our attention away from the task at hand.  In this hectic and busy world, it can be very easy to just pretend the failure didn't happen--to hope no one would notice.  After all, the failure may not be discovered for days or months, if at all.  Even if found and brought to leadership's attention, evidence may not exist to reveal the person responsible. 

How often have we witnessed the lack of integrity and character in our culture today?  It seems almost daily people of power or fame blame a staff member, spokesperson, or some unknown entity that "hacked my iPhone" for their own trespass or failed judgment.  When this scenario presents itself, what should be the reaction?  It is at this point the true measure of a person's character is revealed.  The famed evangelist, Dwight L. Moody, said, "If I take care of my character, my reputation will take care of itself."   I would add that integrity determines the quality of character and a strong character is what achieves a lasting, positive reputation.  Clearly, the right course of action is to immediately accept responsibility.  Personal accountability extends to not just accepting responsibility when a failure occurs but to also accept the consequences of the action.  This also means not "passing the buck;" moreover, it is imperative to recognize the role we, as leaders, play in the process. We just stated the expectations for the offender but our core values also demand leaders exercise care and caution in their treatment of Airmen. Heavy-handed or disproportionate punishments serve only to embitter our Airmen, deter reporting and sow distrust in the workforce. 

Realizing no one is perfect, we must apply a level of discipline applicable to the offense.   Once leadership administers corrective action, the Airman must make one last decision based on his/her own integrity: their state of demeanor from that point forward.  Airmen who harbor resentment or anger towards their leadership or "the system" have failed to internalize the lesson learned from their failure and, unfortunately, set themselves up to repeat it.  An Airman with both the intestinal fortitude to "own" the failure and the humility to accept its penalty will grow from the experience and emerge a better person.  They will earn a reputation for strong character and be remembered as someone to be respected.  A good name is more desirable than riches; to be esteemed is better than silver or gold (Proverbs 22:1).  I guess the question to ponder is how do we want to be remembered when we faced adversity? 

Every member of our military is more crucial than ever in these times of leaned out forces and personnel drawdowns.  Our decisions and actions carry far more importance and have wider ranging impact than ever before.  In order to make our nation's military the example to be aspired to, it is absolutely critical we strive for excellence every day, have the integrity to admit fault gracefully and accept the consequences of our actions.  At the end of the day, when I leave our nation's service, I want to leave with a reputation as an Airman who served with integrity.  I hope you do too!

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