How to avoid the "Justice Files"

LUKE AIR FORCE BASE, Ariz. -- It's 4 p.m. Monday. Normally, you would be headed home after a hard day of working on the flightline or in one of Luke's many maintenance back shops. But not today. Today you're in service dress sitting outside your commander's closed office door. 

Inside, your squadron commander is talking with your supervisor, flight chief, flight commander, and first sergeant. 

Understandably nervous, your palms are sweaty as you look over your uniform. Suddenly, the first sergeant pokes his head out and says, "Knock once, enter when told, and report in to the commander in front of his desk." You muster up the courage, knock once, and enter not knowing what will happen next. 

You have just entered "The Justice Files" -- at least that is what we call it in the 56th Equipment Maintenance Squadron. 

Twice a week in EMS, I hold the "Justice Files" for Airmen who fail to meet Air Force standards. 

They report to my office and receive nonjudicial punishment in the form of an Article 15 for violating articles of the Uniform Code of Military Justice. 

Despite its unique moniker, this type of disciplinary action is not unique to my squadron. It occurs in every squadron in our Air Force. Every commander has his or her own style for serving up discipline but not everyone has a catchy name for it. 

Names do not matter but the reason behind it does -- to instill good order and discipline in the unit. 

There are 27 squadron commanders at Luke. 

Although I can only speak for myself, my hunch is that all of them would much rather be out patting you on the back for a job well done, pinning a medal on your chest, or handing out stripes - those are the fun things squadron commanders get to do. 

There is no thrill in serving up discipline; however, when Airmen are standing in front of our desks, we have an important job to do and will not back down from it. 

Commanders owe it to the Airmen in our squadron who are meeting Air Force standards and the American people to do the right thing. 

As Airmen sit outside the commander's office, the commander is deciding what is best for the Air Force, what is best for the organization and lastly what is best for the individual Airman. 

We do not take this lightly because we know our actions will impact your career. 

So what happens after the Justice Files? 

I'm generalizing, but I have essentially seen Airmen react in two distinct ways. Most Airmen straighten up, get back in Air Force standard's, and learn from their experience. 

Sadly, some Airmen use their Justice Files experience to spiral down the slippery slope. When this happens, chances are these Airmen will end up back in the commander's office. Most likely, they will receive a discharge package for a pattern of misconduct with their days in the Air Force numbered. 

The Justice Files will definitely impact your career, but it alone will not end it. That is up to you, because what happens once you leave your commander's office is in your hands. 

Adherence to high standards and being a model Airman for others will help you avoid your commander's version of the Justice Files. Live by our core values and you won't ever have to worry about it. However, as a young Airman, there are plenty of opportunities to get in trouble. Underage drinking, not following technical data, or breeches of integrity are some actions that I have recently addressed. 

Steer clear of these pitfalls by committing yourself to excellence. 

Beyond embracing high standards, good supervisors play a vital role. The Air Force recently selected 276 senior airmen from Luke for promotion to staff sergeant -- critical front-line supervisors who can help ensure Airmen meet high standards and help them avoid disciplinary action. 

Here's my challenge to our newest supervisors -- talk to your Airmen about expectations and high standards. 

Ensure they are physically fit, help them avoid financial troubles through smart money management, and show them the ropes on the job to avoid taking any shortcuts in the work they do. 

Remember, Justice Files attendees include supervisors too, so this should be some additional incentive for you as well. 

Lastly, help your commander - help clear the calendar of discipline sessions allowing him or her more free time to do the fun stuff--like recognizing you and your fellow Airmen for the great work you do.