Leadership in challenging times: Integrity also means consistency

RAMSTEIN AIR BASE, Germany -- Every Airman knows that "Integrity First" is the foundational pillar of our core values, and we all understand what it means. We will always strive to do the right thing and be honest in all that we do. I also believe integrity carries with it the idea of consistency in how we conduct every aspect of our lives.
Recently, I took the out brief of an off-duty vehicle accident in which two Airmen lost their lives. It was a very sad and all-too-familiar story of Airmen who combined alcohol with reckless, high speed driving. The result was not only their deaths, but also that of an innocent person in a car with which they collided. In an instant, the lives of three families were torn apart and the Air Force lost two of its Airmen.

These Airmen had been very reliable in their duty performance. However, their propensity for binge drinking and high speed driving was well known among their peers. In the days before the fatal accident, one of the Airmen had engaged in binge drinking that included the consumption of fifteen or more drinks one night and in excess of twenty drinks the next night. Each night of binge drinking was followed by duty launching, recovering, maintaining and repairing fighter aircraft. Since we now know this, their peers obviously knew it as well. This Airman had a blood alcohol level of "zero" at the scene of the accident. He had "taken the night off" because he was worn out from drinking the previous days, but he still died as a passenger in the car with this deadly "band of brothers." The driver, who they had decided would be the designated driver, decided not to take the night off from drinking. He was an avid driver and active member of a national racing association who often drove too fast for conditions in a manner that I would consider reckless. On the night of the accident, alcohol and speed became a deadly combination. We lost two Airmen and a civilian for absolutely no reason.

Having received this accident report, I made two observations. One, on duty these young men were good performers carrying out critical tasks supporting one of our most sophisticated weapons systems. But off duty, their immaturity was deadly. Two, the disparity between the maturity demonstrated on duty and off duty was well-known to their fellow Airmen. These wingmen did not hold them accountable.

An engineer might analyze a steel beam and declare that the steel has "integrity" from one end of the beam to another. This means that the quality of the steel is consistent from one end to the other. No portions had seams or inconsistent quality or areas that were brittle or in any way defective. The beam has "integrity."

Certainly none of us are perfect, but we must strive for this kind of integrity in our lives--the kind that makes us consistently the same person on duty and off, with our peers, our subordinates, our supervisors and our families. As wingmen we must also hold each other accountable as professional Airmen. This is simply the right thing to do, and it is the only way we can ensure that we have safe, satisfying and productive lives for ourselves, our families, our unit, the Air Force and the Nation.