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Effective Chain of Command hinges on Trust

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Kevin E. Bannister
  • 6th Security Forces Squadron Commander
The United States Air Force, like most large organizations, operates through a chain of command. Leaders and followers give and receive orders, and execute the tasks required to perform the mission. For the chain of command to operate effectively there must exist a level of trust among the members of the organization. In addition, the United States Air Force is entrusted by the nation to protect and defend the national interest. Therefore, integrity is first among our Air Force Core Values. 

According to the Air Force's "The Little Blue Book," integrity is doing what is right. The document further defines integrity as a character trait characterized by courage, honesty, responsibility, accountability, justice, openness, self-respect, and humility. As you can see, integrity is complex. One of Webster's 21st Century Dictionary definitions of integrity is firmness of character. This definition particularly appeals to me because it implies dedication and commitment. In our line of work, everyone must be committed to the oaths we've sworn or affirmed, and dedicated to the Air Force Core Values. Integrity above reproach is an absolute must if we are to be good stewards of our nation's trust and resources, especially the lives of our Airmen. 

The profession of arms is a potentially dangerous business, even more so in times such as these when the nation is at war. For the chain of command to properly function, Airmen must be able to trust their leaders, followers, and wingmen to do what is right, always. All Airmen must integrate our Core Values into their lives and must instill our values in the workplace, at home, and in every aspect of their daily lives. Integrity must be inherent in every decision, order, and action to instill trust, confidence, and respect. When people act without integrity, even if it is only on one occasion, they discredit themselves, their organization, and plant the seed of mistrust among all with whom they work. Imagine being asked by a boss who lacked integrity to risk your life to perform a dangerous mission; clearly you would not be as willing to place service before self if you did not trust that your boss was doing what was right. Daily our Airmen are conducting very dangerous missions in Iraq and elsewhere; those who suffer casualties, as well as their family, friends, and team members, must be confident that they did so while doing the right thing. They deserve no less. 

Even in the relatively mundane day-to-day decisions such as those regarding resource allocation, duty schedules, and additional duty taskings, integrity is paramount. In our country everyone wants and expects to be treated as fairly as possible, to do otherwise breaks down team cohesion. There is no place in our profession for favoritism, harassment, discrimination or other forms of misconduct. Without teamwork, mission effectiveness drops. Similarly, leaders must be able to trust their personnel to carry out the mission appropriately. Few supervisors can be everywhere at once so members have to be trusted to execute their parts of the mission. Even concerning personal interaction among team members, Airmen must act with integrity. An Airman that needs to turn to a wingman for help will seldom turn to someone he or she does not trust; however, he or she may turn to someone they respect and believe will do the right thing. You never know when you will be needed. Obviously we all make mistakes, but mistakes can usually be corrected with training, reduced with experience, or simply overcome. Commitment to integrity allows for mistakes, but does not tolerate willful misconduct. 

Ours is the greatest Air Force ever, and consistently year after year the American public rates the military as one of the most trusted organizations. Our Airmen, who by and large are committed to our Core Values and dedicated to doing the right things, are the best in the world and well deserving of this trust. However, this public trust as well as the trust within the organization must be continuously justified and maintained. Misconduct of Air Force personnel discredits the military and erodes that public trust. Such misconduct similarly shakes the trust within the organization. Lapses of integrity can overshadow years worth of achievement and can also end careers. Consequently, I believe it serves us well to periodically pause, reflect, and rededicate ourselves to our Air Force Core Values. First among these is integrity. I'm sure you will find, as I do, that commitment to integrity not only serves us well professionally, but also makes us better members of our families, our communities, and our nation.