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NEWS | May 11, 2006

Obedience, ethical loyalty

By Senior Master Sgt. Vincent E. Paoletta Air Combat Command

As leaders, we must never make our people choose between permitting unethical actions (Integrity Last) or hurting their career by confronting unethical actions (Integrity First). 

As followers, we must always confront unethical actions without fear (Integrity First) for the sake of all affected by the unethical act. 

If I can help make a difference for at least one of you, leader or subordinate, who reads this, I have achieved what I set out to do. Here is what I learned from my personal experiences and observations: 

Loyalty can be described as the utmost faith and allegiance to a cause, a person or a government. Loyalty is rooted deep in our profession, our service in the United States Air Force. Two types of loyalty that guide our daily judgments and actions are obedient loyalty and ethical loyalty. 

Obedient loyalty is when we obey the orders and rules of our superiors and others appointed over us as well as the laws of our constitution. When we entered the Air Force and each time we re-enlist, we swear or affirm an oath that holds us accountable for our loyalty to the aforementioned. Obedient loyalty is important to our profession to effectively defend our great nation. However, it is not the most important loyalty. 

Ethical loyalty is when we keep mankind foremost in our thoughts in all we do. It can cause a person to struggle with the thought of obeying an order or law when special circumstances require us to do the right thing, the ethical thing. 

We must apply sound judgment when faced with obeying an order or law that will have an unethical result, given the situation and/or the core values of the person issuing the order – Integrity First or Corrupt First, Service Before Self or Self Before Service, etc. 

Never forget that we must support and defend our nation against all enemies as we have sworn to do, while fully trusting civilian and military leadership appointed over us, regardless of whether we believe military action is the right thing to do or not. 

Our job is to break the will of the enemy, and unfortunately, we often have to hurt or kill the enemy to do so. However, we must apply ethical loyalty to our own actions and the actions of our subordinates and all others in conflict, by adhering to the Laws of Armed Conflict which were agreed upon in Geneva as the “ethical” way to defeat an enemy and fulfill our duty to carry out orders and defend our nation. 

Most of our encounters with unethical acts or situations, however, will occur on a much lower scale and could be allowed or committed by any individual at any level within our unit. 

These acts could include unprofessional relationships, cover-up of criminal acts, dereliction of duty when ignoring morale problem warning signs (to include unit-wide discontent or off-duty incidents), when Fraud, Waste and Abuse occurs, or when retribution or reprisal is taken against a person who practices ethical loyalty in confronting any of these situations and the person or people allowing them to occur. 

Because ethical loyalty is the most important loyalty and should always come first, we must have the fortitude to confront, with tact and respect, the individual directing or allowing the unethical act to occur, and we must not hesitate to stand firmly against the act by reporting and/or preventing the act or situation from occurring. Our commitment to Integrity First, Service Before Self, and Excellence In All We Do, demands that we do so.