“I (state name of enlistee), so solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same, and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justices. So help me God.” (10 U.S.C. § 502)
At several times in my military career I stood before a commissioned officer and the flag, raised my right hand, repeated that oath, and signed a four year contract.
For 20 years I served to defend the Constitution and what it represents. Part of that service was to support national policies as determined by whichever President I was serving under. I did not serve and obey blindly; I knew what I was getting into (at least after the first enlistment). I didn’t always agree with national policy or my assigned mission but I did my duty and fulfilled my obligations.
My motives were not selfless. I was not motivated by ideas of patriotism or being part of something bigger. When I first enlisted, I was unemployed and couldn’t afford college. By enlisting I’d have a steady job for four years, maybe see some of the world and learn a skill, and I’d have the GI Bill for college. I made it a career because it was a good life overall and I had a family to support. My reasons for retiring when I did were personal as well, and I won’t go into them here.
I wasn’t defending freedom per se, but the Constitution and the principles behind it. I believe in those principles. Freedom isn’t free but it doesn’t come from soldiers, sailors, marines, and airmen fighting in some desert or jungle halfway around the world. Freedom comes from ordinary citizens responsibly exercising their Constitutional rights and holding their government officials, both elected and appointed, accountable to the citizenry.
Foreign powers and ideologies do not pose the greatest threat to the Constitution. The greatest threat is domestic. We, the citizens of the United States of America, pose the greatest threat to the Constitution when we don’t responsibly exercise our rights and hold our government accountable.
We have become complacent. Whenever we fail to show up at the polls on Election Day, informed about the candidates and the issues, we are voting to accept the aftermath of that election. By not placing your vote you are effectively voting to surrender your rights and liberties. No elected official that serves his or her own interests or those of special interests ahead of their constituency deserves to be in office.
In this century we have already lost too many freedoms and liberties to our complacency and our willingness to hand over our freedom for the illusion of safety and security? Look around you. Are you any safer now than you were 17 years ago? If anything you are probably in greater danger now.
We need to stop being afraid because being afraid and being free are mutually exclusive. Defend the Constitution from its domestic enemies by exercising your rights in an informed and responsible manner. That’s how you should show your appreciation for any veteran’s service.