Final clause in cadet Honor Oath made optional

  • Published
  • By Maj. Brus E. Vidal
  • U.S. Air Force Academy Public Affairs

After reviewing the cadet Honor Oath, and in the spirit of determining a way ahead that enables all to be true to their beliefs, the Air Force's Academy has decided to make the final clause optional.

"Here at the Academy, we work to build a culture of dignity and respect, and that respect includes the ability of our cadets, Airmen and civilian Airmen to freely practice and exercise their religious preference -- or not." said Academy Superintendent Lt. Gen. Michelle Johnson. "So in the spirit of respect, cadets may or may not choose to finish the Honor Oath with 'So help me God.'"

"At the Air Force Academy, we produce lieutenants for our Air Force and leaders for our nation, so our focus here continues to be on developing leaders of character," Johnson said. "This all begins by living honorably. The Honor Code and Honor Oath reinforce this fundamental value."

The Honor Code, "We will not lie, steal or cheat, nor tolerate among us anyone who does," was formally adopted by the Academy's first graduating class of 1959. It is the minimum standard of conduct cadets expect of themselves and their fellow cadets.

In 1984, the Cadet Wing voted to add an "Honor Oath" for all cadets to take. It is administered to the entire Cadet Wing when they are formally accepted into the wing at the conclusion of Basic Cadet Training. The oath consists of a statement of the Honor Code, followed by a resolution for cadets to live honorably. It reads: "We will not lie, steal or cheat, nor tolerate among us anyone who does. Furthermore, I resolve to do my duty and to live honorably, so help me God."

Dr. Hans Mueh, athletic director at the Academy, was a lieutenant colonel assigned to the Academy's chemistry department in 1984.

"In 1984, we had a situation in a Physics 411 course that resulted in widespread allegations of cheating, the doctor said.”It was so widespread that the superintendent, Lt. Gen. Skip Scott, suspended the code and granted amnesty for a short period of time to allow all cadets to report previous violations of their personal honor.

"This was done to assess the state of the Code in the wing," Mueh said. "As a result of that feedback, the superintendent established an Honor Committee, chaired by Col. Jim Woody, professor and head of management, to change the way we administer the Code."

Mueh, who sat on that committee, said the committee determined that some additional clout was needed for this oath. The committee determined the phrase "we will not" was necessary to begin the code in order to drive home the collective responsibility of all cadets to not tolerate lying, cheating or stealing and to personally accept the individual mandate to live with honor, character and integrity.

Mueh said that addition led to, "and furthermore, I resolve to do my duty and live honorably."

"Then, to add more seriousness to the oath, we decided to mirror the commissioning oath and add the words, 'so help me God,'" Mueh said.

The existence of the Honor Code presents many privileges and responsibilities to each cadet. A cadet's word is accepted as the truth at all times. Academic scores can truly reflect a cadet's individual effort and knowledge because each cadet is expected to adhere to the Honor Code. This adherence extends to a responsibility to confront other cadets on suspected violations of the Code. Such confrontations often result in a simple clarification of a misunderstanding, and each cadet learns the value of clear communications in all situations.

From the moment cadets enter the Academy, they begin an education process designed to help them understand the responsibilities and expectations associated with the Honor Code. To emphasize the magnitude of leading a life of honor, character and integrity, cadets, as potential future officers, receive extensive character and leadership instruction and those same values are inculcated into all military training and extracurricular activities.

The Academy's Center for Character and Leadership Development provides classroom, seminar, workshop and experiential-based learning programs to all cadets, beginning when they enter Basic Cadet Training and this continues each year through the final semester at the Academy. The center's programs, when coupled with the Honor Code and Honor System, establish a foundation for the "leaders of character" that the Academy aspires to produce.

"Cadets must meet Academy standards -- honor, physical fitness, academics and military aptitude - in order to be a cadet in good standing," said Commandant of Cadets Brig. Gen. Gregory Lengyel. "Holding each cadet to these high standards promotes good order and discipline throughout the institution."

The Honor Code is a vital part of cadets' development as military professionals, Lengyel said. It also represents a broader aspect of ethical maturity which will serve them throughout their lives. As the bearers of the public trust, both as cadets and as officers, it is the Honor Code which helps build a personal integrity able to withstand the rigorous demands placed upon them.