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Top 10 ways to stay out of jail and have a successful career

EIELSON AIR FORCE BASE, Alaska -- A few years ago a good friend and fellow judge advocate general officer serving as an area defense counsel made a top-ten list of ways Airmen could avoid trouble and stay out of jail. After several years as a JAG officer both prosecuting and defending Airmen, I still find the advice to be spot-on and worth repeating. Here, with only slight modification, is that top-ten list of how Airmen can stay out of jail.

10. Quit getting sloppy drunk. You'll end up doing something really stupid and either victimize someone or become a victim yourself.

9. Never use drugs. Ask yourself if it's worth your career, your $40,000 GI Bill and the potential of a criminal record.

8. Don't steal or lie, even a little. The first rules you learned as a kid apply to this day.

7. Live within your means. I still can't afford a Porsche - you can't afford a Porsche.

6. Be likeable and valuable. Good Airmen get breaks because they've earned them.

5. Always be squared-away and 10 minutes early. Your uniform, haircut, military bearing and punctuality really do reflect who you are.

4. Don't fight. If you really want to duke it out with somebody, try organized boxing. It's a lot harder than it looks.

3. Never misuse computers. Things you download or send can easily come back to haunt you.

2. Don't engage in sexual activity without consent. If you're not sure, ask.

1. Don't hang out with idiots. You will eventually get blamed for what they did.

Obviously, the goal of simply avoiding jail or punishment via an Article 15 is a fairly low standard which most of us successfully attain. To become a truly successful, effective Airman, of course, takes additional, proactive effort, but should be the goal for each one of us. Based on my observations of the happy, successful individuals I've met during my time in the military I offer a few suggestions for those wanting to succeed. The following are my top ten tips for having a happy and successful Air Force career:

10. Be candid and honest. As we say in court, give the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth--always.

9. Properly prioritize your loyalties. You can work hard and still be a good spouse, partner, parent, friend, and member of the community.

8. Be a team player. It's been said that there is no limit to the good you can do if you don't care who gets the credit.

7. Be part of the solution. As both an effective leader and an effective follower you should seek to remove barriers to the success of the people around you.

6. Add value to every product and process you touch. Don't simply pass the buck to the next person.

5. Become an expert in your field. Take the time to learn, understand, and master your job.

4. Share your knowledge. Your past experience shouldn't benefit just you - teach and lift those around you.

3. Treat everyone with respect. Civilians and military alike deserve it, and respect will engender loyalty and trust.

2. Start saving and investing. People who understand interest earn it. People who don't understand interest pay it. Utilize the Thrift Savings Plan. You don't have to invest in the stock market. Contributions to TSP are tax deferred and you receive a tax credit for your participation.

1. Get and stay fit. This is not only part of self-discipline and military standards, but regular exercise relieves stress and makes life more enjoyable.

Those I have known who have followed the above principles have been satisfied and successful Airmen. They've been able to look back at their time in the service and know they made a difference and were better prepared for the rest of their lives. 

Whether you are in the service for one enlistment or an entire career, make the most of your time in the Air Force. Recognize how you can improve the performance of the Eielson team and lift up those around you. Find someone to mentor and seek to be mentored by others.

Finally, enjoy your time in the service. Time and time again I hear stories from former Airmen about how much they miss the Air Force. It truly is a privilege to wear the blue uniform. Make the most of it.