Airmen must not compromise integrity for loyalty

Maj. Kurt Conklin, 27th Equipment Maintenance Squadron

“Loyalty cannot be blueprinted. It cannot be produced on an assembly line. In fact, it cannot be manufactured at all, for its origin is the human heart … the center of self-respect and human dignity. It is a force which leaps into being only when conditions are exactly right for it … and it is a force very sensitive to betrayal.” — Maurice R. Franks
Loyalty is one of those qualities treasured by all, especially those of us in the Air Force. We all think we have a good idea of what loyalty is. However, ask anyone their definition I’ll bet you receive a different answer from each person you ask.
My dog, Akklu, demonstrates loyalty all the time. He honors me by standing at my side wherever I go when I’m home. If I sit down to watch TV, he’s at my feet. Akklu’s loyalty to me is unwavering and unquestionable.
But unwavering and unquestionable loyalty isn’t what I need in an Airman. Each of us must discern our priorities and relationships to them in order to determine where our loyalties lie. I hope to give you some food for thought as you evaluate the placement your loyalties.
Loyalty is a strong bond we have regarding certain things. We demonstrate brand loyalty when we consider and purchase only products from a certain manufacturer, such as our cars, tooth paste or even our food. There’s nothing wrong with this bias because it really is just personal preference. However, it does close our options to the many potential benefits of competitor’s products.
That’s why I stress to you today, that loyalty is something we must seriously consider as it relates to us and our daily routines at work. Blind loyalty can, and more than likely will, get you in trouble or at the very least leave you very dissatisfied in your endeavors.
Yes, we need to have loyalty to each other — up and down the chain of command and across functional lines. But let’s look at the types of loyalty we must nurture within our Air Force organizational structure.
First and foremost, we must be loyal to our country, to its ideals and freedoms. After all, that is why we’re serving our nation and is the foundation upon which everything else falls in order. Next, we must have loyalty to our mission, for without that goal we cease to have purpose as an organization. Then we must have loyalty to our higher commands, to place trust and confidence in their position to do the right thing for the betterment of all subordinates and to have the vision necessary for us to accomplish our goals and our mission.
Once we’ve established our foundational loyalties to country and mission, loyalty to our people folds in nicely. Our people include our superiors, subordinates and peers alike. Without this loyalty, units lack cohesion and purpose. Teamwork fails and the mission fails. Loyalty to our troops is paramount, but can never preempt our loyalties to country and mission.
Now, what happens when there is a conflict between loyalties? Well, Gen. Colin Powell, former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff had this to say about that, “When we are debating an issue, loyalty means giving me your honest opinion, whether you think I’ll like it or not. Disagreement, at this state, stimulates me. But once a decision is made, the debate ends. From that point on, loyalty means executing the decision as if it were your own.” This is what I call loyal dissent. This is what keeps us as an institution honest and invigorated. It not only helps to avoid the perils of “group think,” it also helps us to become more effective Airmen and warriors.
There are also times when our loyalties can be juxtaposed to our Air Force core values. This most commonly occurs when there’s a conflict between our loyalty to a person, purpose or cause and our first core value of integrity. Think about this for a moment — the answer to the right thing should be crystal clear. You must maintain your integrity. A conflict between loyalty and integrity should cause you to take pause for a moment and reevaluate your loyalties. If you go back up the page and prioritize correctly, you’ll resolve this conflict easily.
You can not compromise your integrity for your loyalty. If you’re unable to resolve this conflict, it’s time for serious consideration about your purpose and your life’s goals. You should never find yourself in a position where you have to compromise one for the other. A life well lived will be one where you’ve prioritized and chosen your loyalties carefully.
Loyalty is an integral part of our lives, both on and off duty. We rarely bring them into question, but every once is a while it is a good idea to take a moment to contemplate our loyalties and make sure we have them in the right order. Then our lives will be well lived.