Integrity: either you have it or you don't

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Georgette Young
  • 17th Training Support Squadron commander
Everyone in the Air Force should know the three Air Force core values, right? If not, they are: Integrity First, Service Before Self, and Excellence in All We Do. As a former Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps instructor, every lesson I taught was tied back to our core values in one way, shape or form.

Out of the three core values, it is my opinion that the most important one, if there could be only one, is our first core value; integrity first. What does integrity really mean? I know what you are all thinking: colonel, where have you been? It's doing what is right even when no one is looking! Well, it really means much more if you stop and think about it. For me, three words encompass integrity - accountability, responsibility and honesty.


Be accountable for everything you do, right or wrong. Merriam-Webster's Online Dictionary defines accountability as "the quality or state of being accountable: an obligation or willingness to accept responsibility or to account for one's actions."

As a squadron commander, I'm accountable to my boss, my peers, and the people under my command. Not only am I accountable to those aforementioned, but also the standards we all need to meet. I understand some may not like the standards, but they are critical for good order and discipline. Do you know what the standards are? It's every supervisors' and subordinates' responsibility to know what these standards are and to live up to them.

When someone doesn't meet the standards, supervisors (raters) need to have the courage to do what is right even if this means marking someone down for not meeting the standards. Don't think your action is going to impact this person's military career - they made the choice to not adhere to the standards so you are holding them accountable. Yes, it's a choice, 100 percent under your control.

I'm always telling my 12-year old son, "Your actions today may have serious consequences tomorrow, be prepared to own up to them." He always gives me this strange look but he knows I will find out sooner or later that he broke a rule. It's no different being in the military. Be accountable for your actions and demand that your peers, supervisors and subordinates are accountable for theirs as well!


This means you are dependable and reliable. Thus, it means you can be counted on to do your job and meet all other obligations. If your supervisor gives you a task, do it to the best of your ability. If you don't have the right kind of training, ask for it. No one will fault you if you did it wrong because you weren't trained properly, but you will be held accountable if you didn't ask for the training. If you don't understand something, ask questions.

Furthermore, nothing bothers me more than when people say they are going to be somewhere or do something and then don't show up. Obviously, this is not responsible. If you sign up to be on your unit's flag football team, or you volunteer to help out in the community, or agree to help a buddy move, do it. There is nothing more annoying than relying on "your buddy" only to be let down. In a sports game, you might only lose the game; however, on the battlefield, someone might lose his or her life. I know I wouldn't want to be in a foxhole with someone who I couldn't depend on to watch my six o'clock, much less protect my life.


For me, this word probably defines integrity. I'm sure you all know that wonderful adage, "Honesty is always the best policy." I've heard it my entire life. Being honest builds trust among your peers, subordinates and superiors. Once again, I'll use my son as an example; I'm constantly emphasizing to him to admit to a mistake if he makes one. Don't sweep it under the living room carpet, tell me. I have much more respect for someone who admits they made a mistake than someone who tries to hide it or pretends the mistake never happened.

Not being honest becomes an intricate weave of untruths and just like a spider's web, you'll get trapped and entangled and won't find your way out.

So, in my humblest opinion, this is my version of integrity first. In the final analysis, you can't buy integrity, it's a state of mind, so you either have it or you don't!