Being fired for your country

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Walter Matthews
  • 92nd Aeromedical Dental Squadron
I want to share with you today what I consider to be the essence of being a good leader AND a good follower. It's quite complicated, so please give this your full attention:
Do the right thing.

That's it. If you do the right thing, you will rarely have a problem. It's been my experience that in almost every situation, deep down, every person truly knows the right thing to do. The voice that tells you what is right is what Jiminy Cricket sang about 'And always let your conscience be your guide...'

In today's Air Force, we have been plagued of late with all sorts of problems - including the mishandling of our nuclear assets. These problems have driven some dramatic changes. Our current USAF Chief of Staff has given us a vision of getting "back to basics." This includes re-caging our gyros on the AF Core Values: Integrity First, Service Before Self, and Excellence in All We Do. "Doing the Right Thing" is a big part of each of these core values

Integrity First: President Dwight D. Eisenhower defined integrity as "doing the right thing even when no one is looking." Integrity is doing the right thing every time, all the time, no matter the cost. It is an absolute commitment, a choice you make BEFORE a decision presents itself. A person of integrity decides to do the right thing before the clerk gives him too much change, or her accountant tells her how to pay less taxes through "creative bookkeeping." Having integrity most of the time is no integrity at all. A good leader not only has integrity, but promotes an environment of integrity within their unit. An Airman should never be afraid of raising a problem to the Boss, and should never be surprised when the Boss does the right thing.

Service Before Self:
This one is a little tougher, because the natural response for most people is self-preservation, or "Looking out for Number One." However, when we raise our right hand and swear to support and defend the Constitution of the United States, we place that document and the society it represents above our own well-being and interests. Every action we take, every memo we write, every bolt we turn, and every e-mail we send - EVERYTHING - is supporting and defending "We the People." When we are asked to work on weekends, deploy and leave families and home behind, and even give our lives - we do it because we are placing our oath and service before our own desires. So, how is that doing the right thing? Some would argue it is foolish, wasteful, ignorant, etc. You've heard it too, I'm sure. The people that mock our commitment do not understand our ethic - that we place their right to mock us above even our own lives. We sacrifice ourselves for others. It is the right thing, because we took an oath to do it - we are fulfilling our commitment. It is also the right thing because it demonstrates a selfless character.

Excellence In All We Do: My Grandpa used to tell me, when we were building something, "Measure twice, cut once." He taught me to make everything I made the best quality I could make it. Excellence is the right thing to do. When something is almost right, don't stop - keep working until it is right! If you are mopping a floor, do you stop when it is half done, or all done? What jobs do you do that deserve less than excellence? Allow me to quote Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.,

If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as Michelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music, or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, "Here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well."

There is no job that is worth anything less than your very best.

Doing the right thing takes moral courage. In the military, it is easy to find someone with physical courage - someone who will die for their country. However, it is infinitely more difficult to find someone with moral courage - someone willing to be fired for their country. Resolve now that you will be the latter - that you will be someone who takes a stand for what's right, regardless the situation, regardless the opponent, regardless the cost. That kind of moral courage is the cornerstone of today's Air Force.