Integrity’s Other Component

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Mike Peeler
  • 58th Airlift Squadron
As Airmen we are taught the primacy of a concept we call integrity. Early in our careers we learn that integrity means strict adherence to moral and ethical principles, soundness of moral character and honesty. Our very own Air Force Doctrine Document 1‐1, Leadership and Force Development, defines integrity as, "The willingness to do what is right even when no one else is looking." It sets integrity as our "moral compass, the basis for the trust imperative in our Air Force." This concept is so important to our service that we don't just list it at the top of our core values, we actually say "Integrity First."

While this is all true and foundational, it represents only the concept's individual aspect, half of what integrity truly is. Integrity's other component speaks to the organization, and describes why we need it in the first place. This second component of integrity is about being whole and undivided, a function of unity and soundness.

Consider the expression, "Structural Integrity," this being an aspect of engineering where a structure is designed to withstand a specified design load. A bridge, for example, must have structural integrity in order to stand up to the weight of its traffic. Components, such as support footing, trusses and abutments, work in harmony to hold up the roadway and enable the bridge to bear its burden. The idea of structural integrity can be applied to a single structure, a single component or a structure consisting of many components.

Said another way, not only must we consider the structural integrity of the bridge as a whole, but also the structural integrity of the bridge's components. In order to be sound, the bridge needs unity amongst these otherwise disparate pieces, and each of these pieces must be sound in its own right. Without integrity among the components, they would be unable to support one another and the bridge would crumble. If one piece, like the support footing, were to become defective and fail, we would say the entire bridge lacked structural integrity.

Organizations can also be characterized in terms of structural integrity, where mission denotes the design load, and supporting agencies and sub‐organizations make up the components. At the organizational level of integrity, however, it is not enough to just do the right thing; you must also hold one another accountable.

At Altus Air Force Base, our design load is the ability to execute our mission of forging combat mobility forces and deploying Airman warriors. The wing would be unsuccessful at this task and lack structural integrity, without sound organizations supporting it. In the same way that Air Mobility Command would be incomplete without the training that takes place at Altus, so too would Altus be incomplete without the supporting functions and accountability of each base organization. The wing is able to train C‐17 Globemaster III pilots, not because of the 58th Airlift Squadron alone, but because of the integrity of all the wing's organizations, working together to achieve a desired goal.

To be sound, these organizations each maintain strict adherence to moral and ethical principles, holding one another accountable to those principles. They continue to support each other in the execution of the mission, subsequently relying on support of smaller sub‐organizations.

As we continue to look deeper at the structural components that make up our Air Force, we eventually come to its basic building block, the Airman, which brings us full circle. It is the Airman that makes up the organization, and must have individual integrity if the squadron wishes to be structurally sound. Organizationally, the squadrons and groups must have structural integrity for the wing to be sound. Therefore, the responsibility lies within each of us to do the right thing, even when no one else is looking, so that our organization can be "whole and undivided," working to achieve a desired goal, as it withstands the design load of our mission.