“Therefore whoever hears these sayings of Mine, and does them, I will liken him to a wise man who built his house on the rock: and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it did not fall, for it was founded on the rock.”
— Matthew 7:24-25
A common soil found in the State of Colorado is bentonite, a shifting, clay-like material. Building a house on bentonite requires extra precautions to ensure the stability of the foundation by drilling down to bedrock. A failure to follow sound construction procedures results in fractured walls, concrete basement floors cracking and separating from the foundation, and in some cases, basement walls pushing into the house by several feet. No one wants to live in a house with issues like that.
In Matthew 7, Jesus speaks of the wise man who built his house on a foundation of rock and the structure withstood the harsh elements and passage of time. In the verses that follow, Christ describes a man who built his house on sand. The house could not endure the howling wind, driving rain, or floods, and it collapsed. You do not need a degree in geology to understand that rock is solid and sand shifts. Likewise, leadership is built upon the rock-solid foundation of integrity. Anything less is unacceptable.
For most people, purchasing a house is a major financial investment. Would you be willing to enter into a thirty-year mortgage knowing that Joe Schmuckatelli and Sons took shortcuts to increase their profit margin? Would you sign the contract knowing your new house is on bentonite soil, but the shady contractors opted not to drill down to bedrock? Most likely you would be appalled and walk away from the deal. If you are like most people, you will then share your disgust with friends, relatives, coworkers, and anyone who will listen.
Schmuckatelli and Sons build houses on shaky foundations because they lack integrity. I do not want Joe building my house, and I do not want to work for someone like him, either. Yet the lack of integrity is pandemic in our world. It infects families, businesses, churches, athletics, nonprofit organizations, and all levels of government.
Webster’s Dictionary describes integrity as an adherence to a code of values, soundness, and completeness. Furthermore, integrity is one of the Marine Corps leadership traits, defined as “the quality of absolute honesty, trustfulness, and uprightness of character and moral principles.”[i] Integrity is doing what is right when others are willing to compromise their ethics to obtain a financial reward, promotion, or recognition. Integrity translates to a clean conscience, allowing ourselves to look into the mirror and also into the eyes of the people around us. Job 31:6 reads, “Let me be weighed on honest scales, That God may know my integrity.”
We can look to the Marine Corps and see their core values of honor, courage, and commitment as an example to follow. I have learned that maintaining and protecting integrity and honor require a steadfast commitment backed by moral courage. Integrity did not automatically come with joining the Marine Corps or the Air Force. My parents instilled this in me at an early age by consistently teaching and reinforcing the importance of doing the right thing at all times, regardless of the consequences.
The Rewards of Integrity
Many people in supervisory positions have worked hard to get where they are. Yes, some seemingly rocket into these roles with little effort or through favoritism of one degree or another. However, I am not addressing that issue. I am writing to those who have dedicated the time, the determination, and the energy to be promoted or hired into supervision. You have taken tests, gone through interviews, or have been pulled aside by your boss and told that you are going to be a supervisor. In the military and fire service, promotions are earned through various testing processes. They are stressful and create a tremendous amount of anxiety. When you earn the promotion, you are not only excited, but you look forward to new assignments and challenges. Keep in mind, integrity will open doors, allowing opportunities that may stagger our greatest imaginations.
During my time in the Marine Corps, I achieved the rank of E-5, sergeant, and I enjoyed the responsibilities that came with the position. Initially I entered the Marine Corps as a firefighter but was later retrained as an Aviation Operations Specialist. My assignment was with the Operations Section at Marine Attack Training Squadron 203 (VMAT-203), Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, North Carolina. This was the squadron that trained Marine Corps aviators to fly the AV-8B Harrier. Since being assigned to the unit, I had been afforded many opportunities that appealed to my skills, abilities, and interests. One of those was related to military intelligence.
As a training squadron, VMAT-203 did not have an Intelligence section. Consequently, the instructor pilots were not always exposed to the same information as their counterparts in other squadrons. I was approached by my immediate supervisor, Gunnery Sergeant (Gunny) Rosemond, who told me Captain Wheeler wanted to speak with me. Wheeler, one of the instructor pilots, was aware of the problem and the negative impact on the other instructors in our unit. Furthermore, he had overheard me express similar concerns to Gunny Rosemond. Captain Wheeler asked if I was interested in working on the problem, and I readily accepted.
Arrangements were made for a temporary, month-long assignment at the Intelligence section of Marine Aircraft Group 32, across the street from our hangar. Captain Wheeler directed me to immerse myself as much as possible in the identification of aircraft, ships, artillery, and armor. He wanted me to apply that knowledge and help the instructor pilots of VMAT-203 remain current with enemy threats. I thoroughly enjoyed the assignment and the month went by more quickly then I wanted. Returning to my unit, I was loaded with slides, posters, information, and other materials the pilots used to help them stay proficient in identifying both friendly and enemy military equipment.
During my time in the military, I held a security clearance and I took the associated responsibilities seriously. The regulations and procedures governing the handling and dissemination of classified material were not my only guideposts. Something much deeper was involved, and that was integrity. Although Captain Wheeler never explicitly referred to my integrity, it was implied based on the trust he had in me to carry out the assignment.
A reputation of integrity brings rewards such as gaining the trust of your boss and others, working beyond your scope of responsibility, and peace of mind knowing you are doing the right thing. However, at times there may be a price to pay for maintaining integrity. This requires personal courage, determination, and intestinal fortitude. Unfortunately, I have sometimes been berated, shunned, and falsely accused because of doing right.
The Surprises of Integrity
At times you may be assigned projects you did not ask for because your integrity built a foundation of trust with your boss.
During my time at MCAS Cherry Point, I often drove by an ominous-looking compound that resembled a prisoner-of-war camp. From my limited drive-by view, the fenced-in prison looked like some of the photos I had seen from the Vietnam era. There was a guard tower next to the road and a loudspeaker blared in a monotone voice, “You are now a prisoner of the People’s Republic.” This little slice of paradise was SERE school—an acronym for survival, evasion, resistance, and escape.
SERE school was a required training course for pilots and the enlisted aircrews. In order to supplement their teaching staff, the school sought volunteers to function as enemy troops to hunt and capture SERE students. Each month I volunteered for the assignment and each month I was turned down. The process had turned into a ritual for me. Imagine my excitement when Gunny Rosemond pulled me aside and said he had a special assignment for me. I thought, Finally! I’m going to be an aggressor at SERE school.
Gunny said I was being assigned extra duty with the SACO. What!? SACO!? I thought he was joking because SACO stands for the Substance Abuse Control Officer. Rosemond said that Sergeant Robinson and I would work for Captain Myers. The primary mission of our extra duty was conducting the “golden flow test”—in other words, we would supervise Marines urinating in plastic cups for random drug testing.
As the initial shock wore off, I asked, “But Gunny, why me?!” Apparently I thought my rank and status in life had endowed me as a special instrument of the Marine Corps, and I was above this type of humiliating duty. I will always remember what Gunny Rosemond said. “Sergeant Davis, it’s because we trust you. We know you don’t drink and you don’t do drugs. We trust you and we need you to do it.”
Gunny’s comments were humbling. His words were genuine and sincere. They were also meaningful and complimentary. My unit wanted and needed someone with integrity who could be trusted to perform the job, and they chose me. Random testing was conducted several times a month. Robinson and I collected the disgusting samples and placed them in brown cardboard boxes. When the boxes were full, we sealed them with evidence tape, completed the associated paperwork, and transported the boxes to the base lab for further processing. Also, as part of our undesirable assignment, we too provided a sample each time to validate the integrity of the process.
Please do not allow the fear of unwanted or undesirable assignments to deter you from demonstrating integrity. However, should your integrity constantly land you in those positions, then it is time to talk with the boss. Be thankful for the trust bestowed upon you and the opportunities, but let your supervisor know how you feel. You should not be in a situation where you are the go-to person all the time. It’s not good for you, your coworkers, your boss, or the organization.
The Price and Pain of Integrity
When the Marine Corps changed my career field to Aviation Operations Specialist, I attended school at Naval Air Station Meridian, Mississippi. A small number of corporals and sergeants were attending various Marine Corps schools at the base, and periodically we were tasked as the Duty NCO (noncommissioned officer). We checked the barracks for security, ensured the junior Marines performing fire watch were awake, and patrolled areas of the base that commonly attracted Marines such as the Enlisted Club where alcohol was served. Simply put, the Duty NCO watched over the junior Marines to make sure there were no problems. If one did occur, we addressed the issue within the scope of our responsibility.
An important point of my next story is that we were Marines assigned to a U.S. Naval installation. Some may not be aware that the Marine Corps is part of the Department of the Navy. The Corps is an amphibious force and requires ships to get from Point A to Point B, hence a tremendous reliance on the Navy. The Navy supplies corpsmen (medics) to Marine combat units, along with medical and chaplain services at Marine installations. A healthy dose of rivalry also exists—some of it friendly, and some not so friendly.
I was the Duty NCO on a warm Friday night in November 1985. With the start of the weekend, I anticipated alcohol-fueled problems between Marines and sailors at the Enlisted Club. Later that evening, though, all was quiet. The only exceptions were two highly intoxicated individuals doubled up over toilets, driving the porcelain bus. As I returned to the small office in one of the barracks, I heard a loud commotion to my left. Suddenly I saw three Marines appear out of the dark, running past the barracks. Behind them, I heard the clop-clop-clop of shoes pounding on the pavement and a female voice yelling at the three Marines to stop. The person engaged in the pursuit was a Navy petty officer, and she was pregnant. Police officers refer to such information as clues. Something was clearly amiss. Joining in the foot pursuit, I yelled for my assistant to notify law enforcement, which the Navy refers to as the Master of Arms or MA. What had been a quiet night now involved an incident between the Navy and Marines.
Eventually the MA, the pregnant petty officer, and I caught the three Marines behind a dimly lit building. Immediately I recognized the three as Marines who had been in trouble more than once during the past month. There we were, standing in the dark with three young, healthy Marines who had just led a pregnant Navy petty officer on a foot chase. Why? They had been at the female barracks past the curfew time of 10 p.m. The petty officer had politely reminded Privates Bill, Bob, and Bud of the curfew and asked them to leave. Instead, the three chose to ignore her request. The petty officer then ordered them out of the area, but they decided to become insubordinate with her. I suspect the three Marines thought they could run off and the petty officer would drop the matter. They made the wrong assumption and the wrong choice.
The Navy MA asked what I wanted to do with them. I glanced at the petty officer, wondering if her baby suffered any harm from chasing the culprits. I was infuriated that three Marines put themselves in a position of forcing a pregnant woman to chase them. Regardless of interservice rivalries, Bill, Bob, and Bud demonstrated a lack of integrity, and disrespect toward the petty officer. They were unapologetic and wore a look of firm defiance on their faces. Everyone watched me, waiting for an answer. No doubt the privates assumed I would defend and protect them from the Navy because of the Marine Corps brotherhood. Would I take responsibility for the three Marines or turn them over to the MA?
Based on their troubled history and insubordination, and the petty officer’s condition, I turned the three Marines over to the MA. They were taken into custody and transported to the brig (Navy and Marine Corps term for jail). I notified my immediate supervisor, Staff Sergeant Adams, about the incident. He went to the brig and arranged the release of Privates Bill, Bob, and Bud. Adams confined them to the barracks for the remainder of the weekend. They were only permitted to leave at mealtime, but under escort.
On Monday morning, the direct supervisor of the three offending Marines verbally dressed me down in front of the entire admin section. Staff Sergeant Furious berated me for getting the Navy MA involved in the incident. He criticized me for shaming the Marine Corps and for not taking care of my brother Marines. My interpretation of his tirade was, They are Marines, you are a Marine, and we never let the Navy do anything to us—regardless of what happened, regardless of their insubordination, and regardless that they would put a pregnant female in a position to chase them. It probably goes without saying that I was utterly humiliated and dumbfounded by this man’s reaction. Not only had these three Marines violated the Marine Corps leadership traits and principles, but Staff Sergeant Furious was defending them and demonstrating a lack of integrity on his part. Earlier in his career, he had served as a drill instructor and now he was treating me like a brand new recruit in boot camp. While he was in my face screaming, I started to question if I had made the right decision regarding the three Marines. I wondered whether or not it was just him, or were other NCOs the same way. Over the next few days, I became disheartened with the Marine Corps. My supervisors shunned me, but the other four NCOs in my class reaffirmed that I took the right actions.
Before the week ended, a disciplinary process was conducted by our commanding officer (CO). Besides myself, the individuals present were the CO, the sergeant major, the pregnant petty officer, the three offending Marines, my supervisor, and Staff Sergeant Furious. The CO was a lieutenant colonel, and after passing judgment on the three guilty Marines, he firmly dressed them down for their actions and behavior. I anxiously awaited my turn to be chewed out by the CO and then the sergeant major. Fortunately, neither felt the same way as Staff Sergeant Furious. It has been over thirty years since that incident and I cannot recall what punishment the three Marines received. However, I distinctly remember the CO telling the petty officer and myself that our actions and handling of the situation were correct. The look on the face of Staff Sergeant Furious was stunned disbelief. Afterward I never said anything to him and he never said anything to me, but I had an extreme sense of satisfaction. The commanding officer vindicated my actions.
Writing this story causes me to reflect on that evening in November 1985. Did I do the right thing by turning Privates Bill, Bud, and Bob over to the Navy MA and sending them to the brig? It has been thirty-four years since the incident occurred and if I were in that same situation today, I would handle it differently. But now I have the benefit of time, maturity, and years of experience under my belt. In 1985, my decision was based more on emotions than sound reasoning of leadership experience. Hindsight is almost always twenty-twenty, making past circumstances easier to interpret through a different lens. I could have accepted responsibility for the three Marines and confined them to the barracks, awaiting further direction from my supervisor. I did not compromise my integrity by turning them over to the MA, but neither would I have compromised my integrity by accepting responsibility for them.
In the end, the privates were wrong and they were held accountable for their choices and actions. I hope Bill, Bob and Bud learned from that experience and changed. I hope they learned a lesson about integrity and respect. I hope they successfully fulfilled their commitment to the Marine Corps, and I hope they have enjoyed a successful life since that time.
The Satisfaction of Integrity
After reading the previous two stories, you may question whether having and maintaining integrity is worth the trouble. Yes it is, because you and I must live with ourselves. At the end of my life I will stand before God and answer for my actions. That fact alone helps me make the right choices, but it does not necessarily ease the anguish that sometimes accompanies doing the right thing.
In the long run the pain and humiliation that come with being berated and shunned are worth it. The sense of frustration that comes with undesirable assignments is worth it. Maintaining our integrity builds courage, develops confidence, and reaps the reward of a clean and clear conscience. Are you not sure what to do? Then always choose to do right. Proverbs 11:3 states: “The integrity of the upright will guide them . . .”
· Integrity is the rock-solid foundation of leadership. Build your house of character on that premise.
· Enjoy the rewards that accompany integrity, such as challenging and desirable assignments.
· Do not be surprised when you receive undesirable assignments because of your reputation for integrity. Accept them as a compliment, but at the same time, speak up if a trend is created.
· Always do right, regardless of what may happen to you personally. Understand there are times when you will pay a price for integrity. In the end, you will be happy you did the right thing.
· Take time to reflect on your experiences. Learn from them, but don’t agonize over them.
· Maintaining integrity builds courage and develops confidence, while setting an example for others to follow.
A Painful, Defining Experience
October 29, 1929, is known as “Black Thursday,” the first day of the Great Depression that lasted until 1939. The stock market crash spread worldwide with no regard for race, color, creed, or ethnicity. Throughout the nation, the financial crisis thrust thousands of people out of work and into economic hard times. It was a time of uncertainty, anxiety, and desperation. People learned to exist on meager earnings and families subsisted on scraps of food. Within a couple of years, World War II followed closely behind the Great Depression.
As if those hardships were not enough, death visited the Davis family in November 1946 when the grandfather I never met died of a heart attack. My dad, Dick, was sixteen years old. With two years remaining before graduation, my dad quit high school and went to work supporting his mother and younger brother. On June 25, 1950, North Korea attacked South Korea, pushing the United States into another war. Desiring to follow his brother’s footsteps, my dad tried to join the Marine Corps. Unfortunately, he was medically rejected due to a heart murmur, a result of childhood rheumatic fever. His next stop was the Navy, but they too turned him down for the same medical reason. Undeterred, he went to the Coast Guard. Of course the heart murmur was still there, but he begged the doctors to overlook the issue and allow him to join the military. His persistent efforts paid off, and Dad enlisted as a machinist’s mate, working in the engine room of Coast Guard ships and operating small boats. Regrettably, he suffered a knee injury after falling down a ladder on board a ship in the North Atlantic. He was medically discharged and returned to civilian life after nearly four years in the military.
Following his time in the Coast Guard, my dad worked as a bank teller where he met his future wife Mary. Leaving the bank, he went to work operating printing presses and did that job for several years. Eventually he became the general manager for Messick Brothers Construction Company in Bridgeton, New Jersey. That would be his final job.
Dick Davis has been described as an honest, hardworking, good man by those who remember him. When I think of my dad, characteristics such as honesty and truthfulness come to mind. His work ethic was unequaled and he expected the same from my brother and me. My mom and dad had a special, loving marriage and I never heard him utter a word in anger toward her. I remember them spending time and talking with one another at the kitchen table. Dad opened doors for my mom and showered her with honor and respect. He also taught my brother and me to do the same. He was the protector and provider of the family. Eventually he obtained his high school diploma. After working all day long, he attended night school at Rutgers University, pursuing a college degree. He faithfully helped in our church by singing in the choir, serving as a deacon, and providing oversight for a construction project. He was also involved with an organization named SCOPE, helping underprivileged minorities in South Jersey.
Unfortunately, Dad was also a man with a multitude of medical problems, suffering his first heart attack in February 1966. As his health continued to decline, he was forced into permanent disability and could no longer work. Up to that time Dad was the sole provider for our family, a role subsequently falling upon my mom. When Dad went on permanent disability, she joined the ranks of hundreds of South Jersey residents working in the factory at Wheaton Glass to support us.
I remember the morning of March 9, 1972, as if it were yesterday. I was fourteen years old and in the eighth grade at Myron L. Powell School in Cedarville, New Jersey. It was a beautiful, sunny and clear day, and void of the haze typically found in New Jersey. Mom left for work and as my brother and I prepared for school, I noticed something different about my dad. He was full of energy and happier than I had seen him in quite some time. Dad planned on cleaning the house and the refrigerator that day.
I always ran home after school and March 9 was no different. No different until I opened the door of our house, announced my presence, and was met by silence. I stepped around the kitchen table and found Dad’s lifeless body lying on the floor. Sometime during the afternoon, he had suffered his final and fatal heart attack. The refrigerator door was open, a mustard jar was by his hand, and several items were on the kitchen table—a clear indication that his last activity on earth was cleaning out the refrigerator.
My brother and I lost our father and my mother lost her husband of seventeen years. Life forever changed for our family on that bright, sunny afternoon. The day of his funeral was cold, cloudy, gloomy, and windy. I wondered if the weather was a portent of our future without Dad. I felt deep pain, anguish, loneliness, and fearful emptiness. We were not in a unique situation, as many before and after us experienced the same pain of losing a loved one. Yet in many respects, the circumstances following my dad’s death defined my future path.
In the days following his passing, and sometimes years after, I heard about his integrity and character. My dad led by example and I had seen his character and integrity in action for myself. I will always remember him saying, “If you’re gonna do a job, then do it right, or don’t do it at all.”
Life is full of choices, but we cannot choose the consequences. I could have chosen to be a victim and allowed my father’s death to take me down a path of drug use, crime, bouncing from one job to another, or any of a thousand things. Even then God’s hand protected me from choices that could have destroyed my life. The death of my father was an extremely painful experience, but also one that shaped me.
Our integrity and character are of the utmost importance and we must protect both. People cannot take either of them from us, but our actions can certainly bolster, tarnish, or destroy those important traits. I have made some pretty stupid mistakes in my life, and you’ll read about a few of them later in the book. However, looking back with the benefit of time, age, and experience, I continue to learn and grow from them. My dad was a man of integrity and it is my desire to emulate that quality.