"...do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic..."

"For the good of the Air Force, for the good of the armed services and for the good of our country, I urge you to reject convention and careerism..."
- Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, Maxwell AFB, April 21, 2008

"You will need to challenge conventional wisdom and call things like you see them to subordinates and superiors alike."
- Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, United States Air Force Academy, March 4, 2011

Monday, July 13, 2009

How Much Does it Cost to Do the Right Thing?

A couple of days ago the DoD Inspector General's office released its latest report investigating the former Chief of Staff of the Air Force, General Moseley (F-15C Pilot) and his actions in the Thunderbirds video scandal. The DoD/IG report can be found here. The report finds the former CSAF guilty of providing preferential treatment on a multi-million dollar contract to a Mr. Shipley. Mr. Shipley was a friend of Gen Moseley's. They shared a mutual friend in former ACC Commander General Hornburg (F-15C pilot). Gen Hornburg was not only a good friend of Gen Moseley's but also a business partner in Mr. Shipley's company. The report also found that Gen Moseley misused subordinate Air Force personnel time and Air Force property to unduly help Mr. Shipley, and that he solicited and accepted prohibited gifts from Shipley. The report is an interesting read especially, in my opinion, the denials of wrongdoing.

Reading this report and watching the recent news about the former VP potentially having ordered the CIA to break the law makes me ask a question I find myself asking on an almost daily basis. Literally. How much does it cost to do the right thing?

I'm not just asking how much it costs for "leaders" to do the right thing but also the price of integrity for the multiple followers that ensure their leaders do what is right. Accountability is a two way street and a chain of command has an up and a down. How much does it cost for people to do what is right?

I understand the world is not a perfect place. I'd like to think I have a pretty good grasp on human nature and a not complete lack of understanding of human history. I'm not an idealist and the truth is I've done things I wish I hadn't done and I did them out of self interest. When I look inside myself I find that I am essentially no different than any of these personalities that make the news each night with perhaps one exception. I think it costs less for me to do the right thing. And so I'm puzzled why the price seems so high for these others in public service that we read about.

Imagine a young man growing up on the streets in New York in the 1930s. He's got a wife and a small child tucked away in a apartment and he's not rich. While I may not agree with him, I can understand if he has to bend a few rules to scratch out a living to feed his family. I can understand that whether I agree with it or not. What I cannot understand is educated and successful people who live by the brow of the taxpayers underneath a golden parachute and yet still cannot manage to do the right thing. It puzzles me to no end to see officers and other public servants with a guaranteed retirement and health care for the rest of their lives (should they simply "throw in the towel") unable to do the right thing. How much does it cost? I honestly want to understand.

I recently had the opportunity to engage in dinner conversation with an honorable and experienced public servant and his wife; both well educated and knowledgeable of politics and ethics. I expressed my growing concern with the lack of basic integrity that appears to be rampant across society and especially in public service and asked if they thought my concern was the result of growing corruption or more likely the result of me simply paying more attention as I get older. The gentleman said in his time he had never seen as much corruption as he sees today.

While I realize there never was a golden age where everything was perfect in America, I do think our basic morality is being lost and replaced by shoddy hollow values. Unfortunately those that typically peddle morality and preach of its demise, in my opinion, are part of the problem and their wares to immorality are like saltwater to thirst. But there is a problem in our greater American culture and we need to figure out how to keep this immorality out of our military. Easier said than done no doubt.

In my opinion, as a military we need to spend much less time discussing leadership and a great deal more time discussing followership. It seems to me we need to encourage the type of courageous followership espoused by our Secretary of Defense and remove "leadership" from the pedestal of career progression. Leadership should not be a destination or a reward and people shouldn't be trained to pride themselves on rank and title but rather on how they comport themselves. Above all, it seems to me, our officers should enter their careers willing to lose them instantly in defense of what is right for their countrymen. As somebody once said, "Sometimes we are called to give up our lives for our country and sometimes we are called to give up our careers for our country." If we can train our military men and women to be good followers then our leaders will be better as a result.


  1. Moseley just got "admonished" in retirement:


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