Why we say 'Integrity First'

AVIANO AIR BASE, Italy -- I'm a lawyer. Far more than that, I have the honor of serving in the world's greatest Air Force.

The legal profession can be the subject of jokes and good-natured ribbing but, I can tell you with absolutely no hesitation that my line of work has taught me a tremendous amount about the value of integrity and what it means to military service.

I believe that to live with integrity, we must act with uncompromising honesty and truthfulness. We must deal with others fairly and in a way that inspires trust. From my earliest days in law school, I learned that this concept is absolutely central to the practice of law. After all, a huge number of society's weightiest issues are decided in the halls of our judicial system. Every day, witness testimony and the actions of individual attorneys and judges shape far-reaching social issues, high-dollar litigation and even decides matters of life and death. Personal integrity is the bedrock of our system; without it, the system fails.

Life in the military is no different. American military members are required to stand ready to implement policymakers' decisions, and to use deadly force when required.

Oftentimes, there is no one "looking over our shoulder," making sure that we "do the right thing." For that reason, integrity is crucial to our way of life and to our ability to perform our duties. We all understand the gravity of our missions, and the need for uncompromising and unflinching trust. We also understand how a lack of integrity can have devastating and even deadly consequences.

As a result, many of us have personally seen the damage caused by mere allegations of breaches of integrity, and we have also seen the destructive penalties that naturally flow when such allegations are proven to be true. Simply put, integrity is a "pass-fail" test. The American public has placed its trust in us, and no matter our rank, Air Force Specialty Code, duty location, or day-to-day job, we are all public servants.

We must never forget that unless we perform our duties with integrity, we violate that trust. For that reason, we are rightly held to the highest standards. Our supervisors, subordinates, co-workers, and the American public deserve nothing less.

We all know our core values and we can recite them at a moment's notice: Integrity First, Service Before Self, and Excellence in All We Do. All three are extremely important ... but there's a reason we say "Integrity First."