Integrity means more to those of us who serve

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Thomas Ulmer
  • 86th Operations Support Squadron Commander
This is one of my favorite times of the year; college football has returned.

I grew up in Ohio and naturally became a fan of Ohio State University. You may have heard of them; their football team has drawn some negative attention over the last few years. They had one of the most respected coaches in all of college football, a guy who brought pride back to the school, made sweater vests cool, and won football games with class. Throughout college football, Jim Tressel, was known as a man of integrity, moral character and high values.

Until one day, he lost all of that. Alerted that some of his star players were violating National Collegiate Athletic Association rules by accepting improper benefits from a tattoo parlor, Tressel chose to ignore the information. When the scandal broke and it became clear that Tressel chose to bury the truth, he was fired and then banned from college football for five years.

Tressel was at the top of his field, a hero in his home state, and paid millions of dollars--all of it lost because he chose to compromise his integrity. It was national news and both the university and the fans were embarrassed and insulted. Coach Tressel coached for 35 years and won five national championships--and now is the Vice President of Strategic Engagement for the University of Akron--no longer involved with sports at the college level.

Here's the interesting thing. Despite the pedestal that America places college football on, what Jim Tressel did for a living is nowhere near as critical as what each and every military member and Department of Defense civilian employee does for the United States.

We defend our nation via hundreds of different ways, but no matter what the job, it all ties back to the defense of our nation. While integrity may be a nice thing to have when coaching college football, it is vital in terms of national defense. A breach in just one person's integrity can have deadly effects at the tactical level. I want to use an example at the strategic level of the cost to the U.S. when one person sells out.

In 2003, the Air Force was desperately in need of a new tanker aircraft to replace aging KC-135 Stratotankers. In charge of negotiating for new tankers was Principle Deputy Undersecretary of the Air Force for Acquisitions, Darleen Druyun.

Druyun, while simultaneously negotiating a new job with Boeing, created a deal to lease Boeing KC-767 Tankers for $260 million per aircraft. However, the cost outright of one of the 767s was $150 billion. Druyun's plan almost cost taxpayers $110 million more per airplane and we never would have owned the aircraft. When discovered, Druyun was fired, pled guilty, and served nine months in prison. Boeing's chief executive officer and chief financial officer were likewise fired and Boeing was fined $615 million.

However, the ultimate tragedy for the Air Force occurred nine years later; today. We still do not have a single new tanker aircraft to replace the KC-135 and will not until 2017 -- mostly due to one person's lack of integrity.

The other issue with integrity is that once it's gone, it's hard to get back. Druyun was never given a chance to regain her integrity, nor should she. Even breaches of integrity with minor results are hard to forget -- it can take years to earn back a reputation of trust and high integrity. Once you sell out, people remember and will always question if you will "do the right thing," especially in tough situations -- situations common to all of us who serve.

To close, I want to quote former Chief of Staff of the Air Force, Gen. Ronald Fogleman, on integrity of military members:

"The tools of our trade are lethal, and we engage in operations that involve risk to human life and untold national treasures. Because of what we do our standards must be higher than those of society at large. The American public expects it of us and properly so. In the end we earn the respect of the American people because of the integrity that we demonstrate."

While this is an incredible quote on integrity and military service, I focus on it because of the man that stated it. General Fogleman's integrity was put on the line at the highest levels of the military, and he chose the high road. I'll leave it to each of you to research the details behind his early resignation, and learn about a man who stood behind his words. All of us are put in situations where our integrity is on the line--the defense of our nation demands we too take the high road.