Each Memorial Day I try to re-cage myself and my sense of service. It's not about strats or school slots or the wing commander liking you. It's not even about what your bros think. Service isn't a seventh grader lunch table.
Most of us will not perish in the line of duty, and that's a good thing. Still, it is important to remember those who gave all, and to reflect on that ultimate measure of sacrifice and the reasons for it. But to do that we must honestly reflect. And we must truly care about their sacrifices.
It's not enough to reflexively acknowledge their sacrifice as others slap a bumper sticker on a truck. We must ask ourselves why their sacrifice was important. When we do, we will undoubtedly consider words like freedom and liberty. But what do those words mean?
What is freedom and liberty? Military professionals should know the answer, as we all took an oath to support and defend those liberties as codified in our nation's supreme law of the land. We took an oath before God to support and defend our Constitution without mental reservation or purpose of evasion, and we swore that we took the oath freely before asking for the help of the Almighty.
So how are we doing with God's help in that oath we swore? What kind of person are we truly, what kind of public servant? Do we really have what it takes to make liberty and freedom a reality in our nation, to move the ball forward after greater and stronger Americans who lived harder lives and sacrificed so much more than ourselves for America? Or are we just pretending, like Enron employees in camouflage, like bankers on Wall Street in flight suits sending nonsense up the chain and plotting our next career and financial moves to serve ourselves?
These are things we should ask ourselves each Memorial Day, if we want to truly honor the sacrifices of those who died defending this nation.
Most of us in military service will not be placed in harm's way in a manner like those we celebrate on Memorial Day. That doesn't mean we can't serve and defend American freedom in a real way, and in a manner that requires very real courage. To be true to the oaths of office we took requires a massive amount of courage in the reality we find ourselves in today, and such courage is greatly needed as the freedom of our American neighbors are under attack like no other time in American history. And that attack is not coming from outside our borders, it's coming from those of us who raised our hands and swore to be sheep dogs instead of wolves.
We have a great opportunity to earn our paychecks and the four day weekend we are now enjoying.
For my part, while I have significant aviation combat time, I've never been put in the position of our combat warriors who gave all. Nowhere near it. But that doesn't mean I didn't train for the battle. Likewise, some may never be put in the position to risk their career to defend the liberty of Americans here at home but still they should prepare for it. They swore they could be counted on if the moment arose, and they most certainly accept a paycheck twice a month from the American people. They should be familiar with the Constitution they swore to defend, and they should consider how it might be attacked on their watch, and they should be ready. That's why Americans pay them.
"...against all enemies, foreign and domestic." That's how it went.
I was ready. I refused an unlawful order and I resigned my commission in the military with more than fifteen years of service, rather than obey an unconstitutional order that spit on the graves of great Americans who died in combat. I was ready because I took my oath seriously, I had previously spent the twenty minutes to read the Constitution, and so I refused the unlawful order on the spot. It took some measure of courage. But that's the job, and I have never refused a paycheck so there would be absolutely no excuse for me to fail when tested.
Whether you think you will find yourself in a similar position or not, you have to prepare and be ready to do right by Americans should the moment arise, whether it's a complicated one way mission over Japan Doolittle-style, or whether it's an unlawful order requiring you to refuse to violate your oath of office and our nation's rule of law.
We get paid to be ready should the need arise. Military officers don't get paid to punch a clock. Rather, we get paid to get it right when the pressure is high and the stakes are real. Many of us forget the importance of a commission. We don't work for IBM even if the office environment might feel that way.
For my part, I happily took the paychecks from struggling Americans, just as I will happily enjoy this four day weekend. I hope we can all reflect on what service truly means, and ensure that we deserve what Americans provide us.
So don't suck. Prepare yourself in case you are one day tested. Americans depend on you to get it right. They need you to defend them, not yourself or your career. Whether you are military, a cop, a federal agent, or a federal judge you have to get it right and there is no excuse for failing.