'The Elephant in the Room'|
Commentary by Lt. Col. W.E. Gene Mattingly
87th Mission Support Group
12/16/2012 - JOINT BASE MCGUIRE-DIX-LAKEHURST, N.J. (AFNS) -- This commentary is in regard to the recently published Air Force chief of staff memo and corresponding articles, "Combating Sexual Assault in the Air Force," "CSAF directs Air Force-wide inspection," and "CSAF talks leadership with wing commanders." I've got chills up my spine at the very deliberate leadership focus by our new CSAF, and I certainly feel his "call to arms" to destroy sexual assault in our Air Force, but also to really get after ensuring we foster a workplace environment of respect, trust and professionalism in the workplace.
I'm having trouble understanding how Airmen could hurt fellow Airmen through sexual assault or any form of sexual harassment for that matter. I'm convinced the problem is much more systemic than we give it credit. More than a decade ago, I was reminded we as members of the Air Force are simply a cross-section of our society. Personally, I like to think we represent the very best of our society. I've learned the hard way that is not so. I still keep my glass half-full, and for the most part, I earnestly believe that we have a majority of the very best.
The issue is those who make-up the worst of our society somehow make it into our great Air Force too. Not wanting to say that broken homes and relationships, rampant internet pornography and addictions to it, and continued abuse of alcohol are the reasons, but they are certainly contributing factors, and they just might be the "elephant in the room." I think the problem is related more to our moral fabric than anything else.
As an Air Force, we must remain alert to what is presented as societal norms, which our Airmen may embrace, but that our Air Force simply can ill afford to embrace. We must hold ourselves to a much higher standard. As an example, many think the core value of integrity is relative, not clear cut right or wrong. When, in fact, that portrayed as right is clearly a violation of personal integrity. Some people in our society may even chastise me for my moral high-ground stance on certain issues because it is counter to an overall societal view these days.
A year ago or so ago my first sergeant goaded me, "Hey sir, do you want a real education about what's going on 'out there?'--come with me to the Club Friday or Saturday night, or better yet sir, let's go downtown." I'm pretty sure I'm glad I didn't go, but as a commander I spent a lot of time thinking about discipline after the fact. Thinking back, quite possibly, going with the Shirt a time or two may have been a good idea--and maybe just maybe it would have deterred some deviant behaviors.
I'm not saying I have cornered all the reasons, nor all the answers to a moral and criminal dilemma, or why we have Airmen assaulting fellow Airmen.
This issue makes me about as sad as anything does after more than 26 years of honorable Air Force service. As an Airman, I'm ready and willing to be part of the solution, not the problem. I'm confident most of us are. The challenge is not to be passive or unwilling to talk about the "elephants" we see. Be frank, open and honest, holding one another accountable - let's see where it leads. To an even better Air Force? - I'm all in.