The Honor Principle: When I Told a 'White Lie' I Broke the Trust That Is Fundamental to Service in the Armed Forces

Article excerpt

When I told a 'white lie' I broke the trust that is fundamental to service in the armed forces

WELCOME TO RIO BRAVO GRILL! CAN I GET Y'ALL a margarita?" With those words I began my stint as a full-time waitress, apartment renter and bill payer in downtown Atlanta. It was the first time I had ever truly been on my own, with no help from my parents except for the occasional sardonic words of advice or chastisement. At that time I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. I had recently been forced to leave the United States Air Force Academy, and I didn't know what to do next. My life had always been planned around a career in the air force, and I had never pictured myself as anything else. My leaving and subsequent return to the academy, as well as my experiences during the time I was out, taught me a lot about myself, the world around me and where I want to go from here.

I have had what might be called a charmed life. I have a family who loves me and has always supported and encouraged me to do whatever I wanted. For the most part, I have accomplished what I set out to do, graduating with highest honors from an award-winning private high school, receiving an appointment to the Air Force Academy and now, I hope, becoming an air force officer. However, in May of 1996, my junior year at the academy, I made quite possibly the most egregious mistake of my life, and my charmed world began to crumble. I violated the Cadet Honor Code.

"We will not lie, steal or cheat, nor tolerate among us anyone who does. Furthermore, I resolve to do my duty and live honorably. So help me God."

The Air Force Academy's honor code is very strict. It is all-encompassing, covering not only academic integrity but honesty in all aspects of life. While many institutions of higher learning have academic honor codes, none is as broad and rigorously enforced as the service academies; it is something cadets and graduates take great pride in. I violated the code with what might be called a "little white lie." I said that I'd made a doctor's appointment when I had not. When I lied I broke the trust that binds everyone at the academy together. To me, that little white lie is the symbol of a temptation that everyone faces: to compromise his or her integrity for personal gain. One of the most important lessons I learned when I was living in the civilian world was that holding oneself to such a high standard is not the norm, and temptations come strong and often. Working in a restaurant for six months, every day I saw people lying for something as simple as getting out of work or trying to avoid punishment. Once, $2,000 was stolen from the restaurant safe. It wasn't easy to maintain my integrity in that environment, but by doing so I became much stronger and more independent.

My friends who are not in the military ask me why members of the armed forces see themselves as better than the rest of society. I think that is a misperception that stems from the essential sense of integrity that servicemen and -women must have in order to do their jobs and do them well. …