Born with integrity?

GOODFELLOW AIR FORCE BASE, Texas -- It probably seems like you've heard about it a thousand times...integrity, or "doing the right thing when no one is looking." You already know that it's part of your core values, but take a quick moment to actually reflect on what integrity means to you. Many servicemembers as you'll read below, have served honorably and contributed much to our nation, yet eventually chose to surrender their integrity in very damaging ways.

Some would argue that if you're not born with a sense of integrity, you'll never have it. Personally, I think that's a nebulous thought. In my humble opinion, I believe that the values and ethics that you choose to live by determine whether or not you possess integrity. You can be a subject matter expert on the topic, yet never choose to integrate it into your personal code of ethics. However, when we sign up for military service, we choose to live by a certain moral code that demands our utmost integrity. It is essential for inspiring the confidence of our country and ensuring that trust exists among the ranks.

Each day we're called upon to do our part to ensure the security of our great nation. To this end, we are entrusted with resources worth thousands, if not millions of dollars, to help us execute our assigned mission. The U.S. taxpayers trust us to do the right thing with their hard-earned dollars, and our integrity is imperative to assuring that those resources are utilized appropriately and as efficiently as possible. Unfortunately, however, the Defense Department has received a black-eye in recent years due to an epidemic of high-profile contract fraud and corruption cases, many occurring in the Southwest Asia theater of operations. You don't have to look hard to find stories about military members who have sacrificed their integrity for personal gain. Those convicted include senior officers and enlisted from all branches of service, who attempted to obtain kickbacks, gratuities and bribes through fraudulent contract arrangements and misuse of their authority. Although these individuals were undoubtedly steeped in core values at some point in their career, they eventually chose to renounce those values and compromise their integrity. Their actions not only dishonored themselves, but their respective services as well.

Despite the fact that every branch of service integrates the concept of integrity into their fundamental core values, it is clear that each member must make a personal choice whether or not to live by those values. That being said, take a moment to consider why you serve, the values you have vowed to live by and the nation you have sworn to defend. Never forget that integrity is the bedrock of our service; it is fundamental to earning and maintaining the trust of our nation. You cannot place a value on your integrity; never sacrifice it for anything. It's up to you to make the right choices...even when no one is looking.