Codes of ethics define person, organization

  • Published
  • By Maj. Gregory Nowak
  • 82nd Security Forces Squadron commander
In the world news lately, one can hear and read allegations of unethical conduct by our fellow brothers and sisters in arms. 

It is a dark cloud that hangs over the great sacrifice and performance of the men and women in our country's armed services. It can be an unnecessary distraction in our ongoing fight against terrorism. But on a smaller stage, unethical conduct can also distract us as Airmen here at Sheppard. 

Merriam-Webster defines ethics as a set of principles of right conduct. Society typically uses ethics to fill in the gaps in standards of conduct between modern law and religion. If it's not in a law or religious text somewhere, we generally use ethical codes to determine how we should act. 

There are as many examples of ethical codes as there are professions and organizations. For example, physicians use the Hippocratic Oath as a guide to professional behavior when faced with care-giving dilemmas. Likewise, military members are trained to use the Code of Conduct as a guide to "return with honor" if they are ever held in captivity. 

When in the field of battle, we have rules of engagements that govern our conduct towards our adversaries. We, as Airmen, also have a code of ethics that guide us onward and upward as the world's finest Air Force. These are set forth in the Air Force core values - "integrity first, service before self, and excellence in all we do." 

As a career cop, I am in the unfortunate position of seeing people take - and fail - the ethics test routinely. These frequent ethical failures I speak of do not just include suspected criminals. Most alarmingly, these failures involve people in positions of responsibility, military and civilian alike. 

These may consist of attempts to coerce or slander security forces in the performance of their duties. Some examples of this are when noncommissioned officers attempt to "pull rank" on lower ranking security forces or officers making threats against careers in order to wrongfully influence a law enforcement decision regarding their troops or even themselves. 

When I see this, it always frustrates and saddens me. The very concept of attempting to coerce or wrongfully slander law enforcement officials in the performance of their duties goes against the very straightforward code of ethics set forward in our Air Force core values. 

The fact that unethical events such as these occur at all in today's Air Force is troubling and perhaps reflects an ethical deficit among the few. However, unethical actions or decisions can be avoided. 

One way to avoid this form of behavior is to keep in mind the consequences of your actions and how they reflect upon you and your organization. Unethical actions speak of your unwillingness to accept responsibility and lack of respect for due-process.
In addition, put yourself in the shoes of the person or organization on the receiving end of the unethical action. 

In my example of our law enforcement professionals, every security forces member is a police academy graduate, duty-position qualified, undergoes extensive upgrade training requirements and is current in all critical tasks. Not to say we will not sometimes make mistakes - everyone is human - but before you question law enforcement actions and decisions, you need to ask yourself: Do I have the same qualifications, training and first-hand knowledge of the situation? 

No one in the Air Force should need to add to their personal code of ethics a standard which states that this conduct is wrong. It is already right there in our core values. I have seen the ethical failures described above, among dozens of others throughout my career. Each time I am proud to say those Airmen have held to their convictions and their personal code of ethics. They have, often at great personal risk, refused to be intimidated no matter what the threat leveled at them. 

We put ourselves and our reputations at risk daily so that we all may be safe. It is everyone's responsibility, including my own, to make sure we hold our own personal code of ethics to Air Force core values - "integrity first, service before self, and excellence in all we do."