Last week, Air Force personnel and those of us affiliated with the Air Force were shocked and horrified to find out 34 junior officers had been caught cheating on their monthly proficiency tests. These officers, charged with the readiness and potential launch of some of our nation’s nuclear weapons, have lost their security clearances while the investigation continues and will retake their exams. In the meantime, the Air Force, in consideration of their morale and feelings of being “unappreciated and overworked” are now considering a raise for the missileers and offering more education benefits and incentives.

No, really. Apparently, if you violate the core values of the Air Force due to morale issues, complain about being so overworked you get to go home to your family after you finish your shift (that’s right, missileers don’t deploy for 6-12 months at a time), and howl about being unappreciated by the other Air Force career fields, then you, too, could get a raise.

If we’re going to start giving incentive pay for morale, then doesn’t it only make sense to survey every career field across the board? And, if it’s true that one of the factors for the missileers’ low morale is the “remote locations” such as Minot AFB, ND, F.E. Warren AFB, WY or Malmstrom AFB, MT, is the Air Force also going to offer this morale pay to other career fields stationed at those locations? Is it going to be every career field that deals with nuclear readiness and employment, from the pilots of B-52s on down to the munitions airmen?

No one questions whether or not there are morale issues at play within the missile career field; indeed, even with the absence of a government funded RAND study, I’m going to go out on a limb and say morale issues are at play in every career field of the military, regardless of branch. How could they not be?

If the answer is going to be simply throwing money at the problem, where will it come from? Our country is running a $17 trillion deficit right now and the military has been threatening cuts to everything from education benefits, to veterans’ retirement, to TriCare. Suddenly, with 34 of Malmstrom’s 190 missile officers caught cheating, the Pentagon is going to have money to fund morale incentives?

As military members, while there is certainly an obligation on Congress to provide the things promised, there is also the obligation on the member to perform their assigned tasks with precision. There is a fiduciary duty to the American taxpayer that every job is done thoroughly and done well. While I am sympathetic to the morale issues at play right now, with less than 4% of Americans having any military affiliation, anything like Malmstrom gives all military members a black eye and incentivizes those who already dislike the military to push for the further deconstruction. Pushing for pay raises on the heels of this for the career field at fault is not going to be received well.

Although I come out of an Air Force career field that is often jokingly noted for its bitterness and ruthlessness, I can’t pretend to know what the missileers deal with every day. That being said, thanks to 12 weeks of early mornings out on the drill pad during OTS, I do know our core values pretty well: Integrity first, service before self, excellence in all we do. No matter how tired you are or how low morale is, the standard must be maintained and even exceeded. And until that can happen consistently, and until Congress and the Pentagon can figure out how to fulfill their obligations to all veterans, pay raises for specific career fields need to wait.

Image: Courtesy of: http://www.flickr.com/photos/blatantworld/5058377491/in/photostream/