No rank amongst lieutenants

  • Published
  • By Col. David Rearick
  • 17th Training Wing vice commander
I often have the privilege of talking to groups of young officers and enlisted on a broad range of subjects. The one question I get most often is, "What is the key to a successful Air Force career?" Through the years I have pondered this question over and over in my mind and I have boiled it down to a few simple points. In this article I'll discuss one point aimed at our young officers.

Saluting. I've come to learn over the past couple of years that there is "no rank amongst lieutenants." What does this mean? Some second lieutenants and first lieutenants do not salute one another; nor do they follow other proper customs and courtesies generally shared amongst those of different ranks. You may have seen it I'm sure; second lieutenant and a first lieutenant pass each other on the troop walk without rendering proper courtesies.

So I've asked our young officers, where is this written? The answer I always get is, "it's an unwritten rule." Aha, I completely understand. Actually, I don't get it. How and when did this unwritten rule become standard practice? Who gives us the authority to develop "unwritten rules?" I could ask a million questions regarding this misguided principle shared by our young officers, but I'll get to the meat of my discussion on why it is vitally important for second lieutenants to salute first lieutenants.

1. Okay, Lieutenants, guess who really notices when you don't salute? The enlisted corps. Here's the message you send to the very people you have been charged with leading: "As officers, rules don't apply to us." But woe to the young Airman that fails to salute one of these young officers. The wrath of God will descend upon them like a plague of locusts perpetrated by the same individuals who believe falsely that there is "no rank amongst lieutenants." How does one charged with leading today's Airmen do so when he or she blatantly displays that standards don't apply to them? How does one discipline someone when one fails to meet standards every day right in front of us all?

As a young officer, you are attempting to destroy your credibility by following this "unwritten rule." If you don't believe this, ask a noncommissioned officer what he or she thinks.

2. This isn't just a Goodfellow phenomenon. This "unwritten rule" permeates throughout the Air Force. Go to just about any base and you'll see it's the same. So imagine this. You are a brand new second lieutenant. You arrive at your first base, come across three first lieutenants and proudly salute and render a heartfelt "Good morning, Sir or Ma'am." One first lieutenant grins and says, "You must be new here. Didn't you know there's no rank between lieutenants?" You walk away confused. Immediately your gut sends off warning signals that this is not right. It goes against everything you were taught. But didn't you hear them making fun of you when they thought you were out of earshot? And sure enough, that's when you notice, it's true. There is "no rank amongst lieutenants." Life just got better. No longer are you at the bottom of the officer food chain. Man, it feels great to not have to salute every single lieutenant walking by. You accept this "unwritten rule" and thus you are accepted by all other lieutenants as one of them. You are part of the club.

This is the first crack in your integrity.

"Come on Colonel Rearick," you say. "It's just a salute. It's small stuff. It has nothing to do with integrity."

I look at it this way. This is your first test as an officer. How you respond builds the foundation for how you will lead. When you decide that it is more important to be part of the crowd. When you decide that peer pressure is too great to do the right thing, the thing you know in your gut is right. Well, you've shown to the world, and more importantly to yourself, that you are a leader who is willing to compromise on integrity. What you've shown is you are not a leader at all.

What will be the next big test? Will you do the right thing, or will you succumb to the peer pressure? Every time you compromise your integrity, no matter how small, it becomes easier and easier in the future.

So which one of you second lieutenants is going to lead the fight by saluting first lieutenants? Which one of you is willing to be labeled with unflattering terms, to be pushed aside by your peers simply because you choose to do the right thing?

Which one of you first lieutenants is going to enforce the standard and require a second lieutenant to salute you? This in itself is more difficult than the second lieutenant saluting. You open yourself up to all sorts of ridicule from your peers as "too gung ho, too rigid, and too high on yourself"?

I ask you to look at it this way.

Who amongst you chooses to live by the Air Force's core values?

Who amongst you chooses to show your peers and the enlisted corps that you choose to lead, not follow?

Only you can answer that question.

The days of what's on the outside that matters are over. It is what's in the inside that will carry you through a successful career. You must never bow to the peer pressure when you know what is right.

Saluting is a no brainer. It's an integrity check and it's the first step to a successful Air Force career. Good luck.

Next article, "Club Membership, What's In It For Me? Wrong Question."