Honor

Late in 1997 I got a dream job commanding the Air Force ceremonial unit in Washington, DC. For most of my career I’d served in classified assignments, with no public acclaim. But now I’d be leading the unit with the Air Force Band, Honor Guard, and Chaplains at Arlington National Cemetery, with thousands of public performances, many on national TV. Only the Thunderbirds, the aerial demonstration team, had more public visibility.

Earlier that year, a video had made national news which showed graduates of a Marine training course having their insignia, which had sharp metal prongs, being pounded into their chests. It was a secret hazing ritual among elite units called “blood pinning.” The video was hard to watch; mothers didn’t send their sons to the Marines so this sort of thing would be done to them.

At my first staff meeting, I asked the commanders who worked for me if our units did this sort of thing. “Oh no sir! We would never do that.” So, I was told.

I think it was about a month later when a large color picture appeared in The Washington Post of one of our ceremonial guardsmen in dress uniform, along with the story of how he had been hazed.   

I learned that the Honor Guard hazing ritual was called a “beat down.” Experienced ceremonial guardsman would take turns slugging newbies after their first official ceremony. The guys were tough. Most of them actually liked the ritual and looked forward to it. But that didn’t make it right.

If this was such a great thing, why did it need to be secret?

Why did a unit, whose sole purpose was to guard honor, think it was OK to lie?

Jesus Christ said it plainly: “Let your ‘yes” be ‘yes’ and your ‘no’ be ‘no.’”

The 8th commandment prohibited “false witness,” but an Old Testament system of jurisprudence had arisen which involved swearing oaths. The more important the issue, the more important the thing you would swear by. But Jesus said no. Integrity isn’t situational.

When you just tell the truth, you never have to worry about keeping your stories straight.

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