America's military at an ethical crossroads?

JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO - LACKLAND, Texas -- As a retired Air Force NCO-turned-civilian public affairs practitioner, I'm disheartened every time I read a newspaper story calling attention to another military member exhibiting a lack of character.

Here are a few of the most recent articles I've come across:
General's accuser points to bullying, captain says she even received a death threat;
Sergeant sentenced over videos;
508 troops yanked from sensitive jobs, Army citing DWIs, assault, abuse issues;
Misconduct sending home more soldiers;
US Airman charged in death;
NCO facing June trial in rape case;
Officer denies knowing escort's age;
Sergeant accused of 12 sexual assaults.

Unfortunately, the list goes on, but why? What's causing this bad press to rear its ugly headlines?

At a time when the world's strongest military is gearing for impending budget cuts, personnel reductions and units re-structuring, I see a disturbing ethical erosion going on in the ranks that needs to be addressed, or else all the military re-shaping in the world won't matter, because our readiness could be compromised from within, making us our own worst enemy.

I realize the overwhelming majority of today's troops wouldn't even think about the transgressions the misguided few have engaged in. I know I didn't when I was wearing my blue suit. I was proud to keep my record clean. And frankly, I was wary of the consequences if I didn't toe the line.

Now, I look around at our military and see people who, for whatever reason, have veered away from the very core values that are supposed to bond us as a defense force, regardless of service branch. Instead, too many folks have adopted an 'it's all about me' mentality, figuring they can do what they want, when they want under the radar.

EXCUSE ME! You can't subscribe to military core values of integrity, service and excellence when you feel like it or when it's convenient. They have to be the foundation of your character around-the-clock, because character is what you exhibit when no one else is around.

Whether it's coming to a complete stop at a STOP sign when there's no traffic approaching, or holding on to a candy wrapper when there's no trash can around, life has ways of testing our character. The military is a proving ground for character every day.

Earlier this year the Secretary of the Air Force, Chief of Staff of the Air Force and Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force authored a letter to all Airmen addressing the importance of adhering to their service's core values. They ended by saying, "it's an honor to be called 'Airman.' We must earn that honor every day."

That sentiment applies to everyone wearing an American armed forces uniform.

There's no room for questionable character(s) in our military. Accepted standards of conduct are in place for a reason. The importance of the job demands conformity.

At the United States Air Force Academy cadets are taught zero tolerance from day one. On a prominent campus wall in all capital letters are the words: "WE WILL NOT LIE, STEAL, OR CHEAT, NOR TOLERATE AMONG US ANYONE WHO DOES."

It all comes down to accountability: to ourselves, our fellow military members and the American taxpayers who expect and deserve nothing less.

Living by our military core values will not by themselves turn GIs into role models. But, it is guaranteed to point them in the right direction. It's a strong moral compass.

Author Mark Twain penned in his book "Huckleberry Finn," "Right is right and wrong is wrong, and a body ain't got no business doing wrong when he ain't ignorant and knows better."

Today's military members know better. That's the good news. Nearly all of them do things for the right reasons.

Now, if someone can come up with a way to screen the few who go down an unethical path before they become another unsavory headline, we should bottle it for future reference.