Honor Rolled

These Air force cadets were ready to fly. Then the honor board crashed their careers.

Josh called his roommate periodically to see if anyone in his squadron needed him. Around 10:30 p.m., his squadron commander called his cell phone and told him he needed to talk to him; Josh hurried back immediately. He was busted for being OTF. But instead of demerits, the commander suggested relieving Josh of his squadron leadership job. When the commander asked him where he'd been, Josh blurted out "Denver." And that's when the trouble really began.

Josh was flustered and nervous and said the first thing that came to mind, which was Denver, since those were his original plans. "I didn't correct myself at the time because I didn't think it mattered," he explains. "OTF is OTF, no matter where you go."

When he thought about it the next day, though, Josh decided he should clarify his mistake. But it wasn't soon enough, according to the honor regulations: "If you knowingly allow a misunderstanding or misperception to stand, you may have allowed a lie to be created and may have violated the Honor Code."

The Air Force Academy booted Josh Moynihan just 
months before graduation.
The Air Force Academy booted Josh Moynihan just months before graduation.
Brigadier General Johnny Weida, the academy's new 
commandant of cadets, has confidence in the honor 
system.
Brigadier General Johnny Weida, the academy's new commandant of cadets, has confidence in the honor system.

When Josh explained that he'd actually stayed in Colorado Springs, his squadron commander didn't seem to care. "He had no reaction. He was like, 'Oh, okay, whatever,'" Josh recalls. The next morning, however, the squadron commander asked Josh to come to his room without offering a reason. When he got there, four members of the honor committee, including one with whom Josh had never gotten along, were ready to hold an honor "clarification" to determine whether he'd lied about his whereabouts.

"That totally caught me by surprise," says Josh, who knew cadets were supposed to receive advance notice of a clarification -- which the handbook clearly states is "not an interrogation." "It never struck me that it could be an honor issue, since I came forward on my own. They kept firing off questions like, 'Why did you say Denver when you meant Colorado Springs?' It was clear that they didn't believe me."

Facing an impasse, the cadet in charge said they'd reconvene in the dorm television room a few days later for a second clarification. "I was more nervous at the second one, because I knew I had to get my point across," Josh says. "This is where they were going to decide whether to call an honor board."

They asked the same questions they had at the first clarification, and Josh reiterated his earlier explanation about having been nervous. But nerves are no excuse for lying.

"Any statement made under stress, if intended to deceive, is still a lie, regardless of whether or not the statement is corrected. A momentary lapse of integrity still violates the Honor Code. Such emotional appeals as, 'I didn't mean to lie...it just came out,' do not exonerate a cadet of his or her intent," the honor handbook explains. "Even in the most stressful of circumstances, cadets are faced with a fundamental decision; to be honest, or not. The split second when we make that decision is often where intent is determined, and if we choose not to be completely honest, our next action will likely be an act in violation of the Honor Code."

Josh says he had no reason to lie -- being OTF in Denver was no worse than being OTF in Colorado Springs. Still, the honor committee recommended his case to a Wing Honor Board. When honor officers came to his room to deliver the news, he "couldn't believe it was happening," Josh remembers. "A thousand things were going through my mind. Mostly I was wondering what was going to happen to my career."

A few weeks later, three investigating cadets interviewed Josh -- never telling him he had the right to consult an attorney. A week later, they realized their mistake and offered to scratch the interview and conduct a second one if Josh wanted to see a lawyer. He did, consulting James Williams, a former academy defense attorney. But it didn't change anything: A Wing Honor Board was scheduled for March 19, 2002.

Inside the hearing room in Vandenberg Hall, which houses the honor division, Josh took a seat at one end of a long table. The chair-man of the board sat at the other, while the eight voting cadets sat along the sides. Josh opted to have his board open, and several people came to support him. He wanted to call the friend he'd taken to Old Chicago as a witness, but the investigating team wouldn't allow it; one of the cadets on that team told him civilians couldn't be trusted, Josh says. The only witnesses to testify were the squadron officer, another cadet officer and Josh's roommate, who had turned Josh in for being OTF. Although the proceeding was civil, the approximately two-hour ordeal was highly uncomfortable. "I had to turn into my own lawyer, knowing nothing of the law," Josh says. "I wish I could have consulted with someone sitting there, because I was very nervous."

After the questioning, Josh made a final statement and then was dismissed from the room while the boardmembers deliberated in private. He was summoned back 45 minutes later. "I went in expecting to hear 'Not guilty,' but I heard 'Guilty' and froze," he says.

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