Integrity in Check: One wild night

GRAND FORKS AIR FORCE BASE, N.D. -- When I first joined the Air Force, I remember hearing stories from my recruiter, fellow trainees and even the drill instructors about what happened at technical school. Things like wild parties and other shenanigans.

All throughout basic training I told myself, I won't let that happen to me. I've got too much integrity. I'll be so grateful to be out of basic I won't cause any trouble at all. Besides, I hate alcohol.

When I finally arrived at my school dormitory (often just referred to as "the Det"), I saw some evidence of those shenanigans. The busted air hockey table in the basement, for example, was the result of a raucous holiday party held the week before I arrived.

Still I thought, no one will ever find me breaking the rules. I hadn't spent six weeks being taught 'Integrity First' for nothing.

Well, never underestimate the power of peer pressure and a smooth talker.

Late one Friday evening, an Airman 'X' wanted to go off base but he was supposed to be on CQ duty that night, during the graveyard shift no less.

So what does this Airman do? He decides to find someone to take his shift so he can go out and party.

Meanwhile, I was ready to kick back in the dayroom and watch some movies with a classmate when X came in and asked if I would help him out. At first I didn't want to do it. However, it wasn't because I thought this Airman had no integrity. Instead, my concern was why should I have to stay up in the wee hours of the night? Then the offers started. X said would return the favor at some point.

So, to my everlasting embarrassment, I accepted. I figured, I'll get something out of this and I can catch up on sleep over the weekend.

As the night wore on, there was no hint of trouble. I didn't like having to drag myself to the CQ desk after midnight, but I figured I was getting something out of it.

Then, about halfway through the shift, all hell started to break loose. First, the State Police brought in one Airman (not the one I swapped duties with) who had been arrested after getting into a bar fight. That brought our first sergeant and military training leaders in from their homes, and they roused every Airman in the building out of bed and into the day room for accountability.

At this point, it was already a bad situation. It only got worse when Airman X came back to the Det hanging on the arms of his buddies. He was so drunk he couldn't even stand up and had a look on his face that said he might throw up at any moment.

When he got a look at Airman X, an MTL came up to me and checked at the CQ roster. "Airman X was supposed to be on CQ right now. What are YOU doing here?" he asked me. The jig was up and I admitted we'd switched places.

I spent the rest of the night in a panic that I was as good as kicked out and I'd have to go home and explain to my family how I didn't even last half a year in the Air Force.

As the new week began, we were all officially put on 'lockdown.' We were all paired off and told we could no longer enter the day room without our 'wingman.' Later that was loosened to where we just couldn't leave the building without them. We spent the next several weeks like that.

The Airman who had swapped duties with me was eventually separated for other infractions. When the MTL got around to speaking to me, I ended up with little more than a warning. Perhaps he saw how repentant I was, I don't know.

However, I did know that I had been part of the straw that broke the camel's back. I don't know if Airman X would have convinced someone else to switch jobs if I had stood my ground, but the fact that I'd been part of a plan gone awry was hard to reconcile.

Since graduating from technical school, I've had many stressful times in the Air Force. But I'll never forget that one wild night, because while no one died and there was no loss of Air Force property, it drove home the meaning of having integrity. If I had maintained my integrity, the night would have still been a bad one but I could have taken comfort in knowing I hadn't contributed to it.