As I see it, I follow in the footsteps of all those who have gone before me that made tremendous sacrifices to defend America from those that have posed a threat to our interests.
As a student and teacher of history, I have often pondered what caused prior generations to volunteer for service, knowing that they would likely be ordered into harm’s way. I remember having discussions with my history professor, Dr. Den Hartog, and a Vietnam combat veteran and mentor, Lt. Colonel G.B. Simon, USMC (Ret.), what inspires men to fight. Now, as I have begun my active duty service in the Marines, I find that question particularly relevant. Except, I can’t just ask it of someone else, I must be able to look in the mirror and have my own answer.
I know why I became a Marine. It was not to get education benefits, travel the world, or escape my hometown of Springfield. Like so many of my fellow Marines and service members, the answer is simple. I want to serve my country. It may sound like a hollow cliché, but to me it runs through every fiber of my being.
You see, as if it were yesterday, I remember sitting in the living room with chicken pox as an 11-year-old boy watching those towers fall down. I went to bed that night dreaming of being able to protect my country.
Throughout the formative years of my life, I followed the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq closely. I decided when I was 16 that as soon as I got to college, I would apply for the Marine officer program. I wanted to do my part and follow in the footsteps of those that were searching the mountains of Afghanistan for Al Qaeda and clearing insurgent ridden cities in Iraq.
It is a simple thing to say that I want to serve my country. However, the question that immediately follows is more complex. What is my country?
Let me be honest. I look all around me and see a nation on the brink of disarray. Our political polarization rivals Civil War levels, leaving our leaders in gridlock, unable to solve the problems of the day. We have a national debt that - if stacked in one dollar bills
- would reach 1.1 million miles into space leaving every US citizen $52,884 in debt and counting! While holding political correctness above common sense, we cater to the demands of fringe minority groups at the expense of the majority. Our health care system has been crippled. Unemployment remains high, with many just dropping out of the workforce all together. All the while dependence on the federal government monstrosity continues to reach record levels.
As a society, I fear we are falling more deeply into disorder each day. I have seen first hand the negative effect that faltering school systems and broken homes are having on future generations. That is leading to an ever-increasing acceptance of recreational drug use and adolescent behavior being accepted into the mid 20’s. Violent and sexual video games are peddled to mere children. And there is a disconcerting level of disrespect for others and a complete break down of the family structure.
Meanwhile, the moral fabric of our society continues to unravel as 100,000 innocent little boys and girls are slaughtered in the womb every year. There seems to be an obsession with immediate gratification. And we have an increasing apathy towards the deeper realities of life, such as religion and philosophy.
These are the glaring realities of modern America. One need only open the newspaper, turn on the TV, or go to the movies to see them played out. We should not isolate ourselves from these realities and pretend that they do not exist. They are serious problems.
Nor should we kid ourselves by thinking that if we could only return to the “good old days,” all problems would be gone and we could bask in the perfection of what America once was. That type of mentality does not solve our current problems, and of course, we must also remember that the “the good ole days” were not as good as we like to think, especially for some people in our society.
For America – like every other nation – is flawed, with a history of grave shortcomings and imperfect leaders. America has been a place of some injustices that I would never dream of defending to my students in a history class. America was never as great as conservatives like to think it once was, and she will never be utopia, as progressives would like to make it. We live in an imperfect world, and America is no exception to that.
However, I am convinced that despite our flaws and our current situation, America is a great nation! I refuse to give up on her! This is my home and the home of my ancestors. It is the home of my brothers and will be the home of my children and their children. I cannot simply give up on the American experiment in the face of adversity.
Despite our imperfect past, the tumultuous present, and the perilous future, I still believe in the greatness of America. In the context of recorded human history, we have an exceptional story. We settled the New World into 13 colonies, defended our rights against a tyrannical king, and—against all odds—won our independence in a war against the world’s military superpower of the day. After a failed government under the Articles of Confederation, many wrote us off as unable to govern ourselves. However, we pressed on and wrote the indispensible words of the US Constitution, which created what now stands as the oldest governing document in the world.
Then we moved west, blazing trails, pioneering into the unknown, and opening up a land of opportunity to settle. We loaded up covered wagons and left all the comforts of “home” behind to make a better life for those that would come after. In a bloody Civil War, we finally ended the evil institution of slavery, while also preserving the union.
Meanwhile, we expanded economically, as Americans left to their own devices found ways to do things that no one thought imaginable. We connected the continent with a railroad, and invented the light bulb and the telephone. We led the world into the modern era that we know today, demonstrating the unlimited potential of people when given the opportunity to live in freedom.
While America has grown as a world power, we have generally not used that power to dominate other people. Rather, America stands as the single greatest force for good the world has ever known. Throughout history it can be seen that when a nation rises to prominence, it usually uses its power to dominate other nations, enslave people, and test the reaches of its empire. This can be seen of the empires of Persia, Greece, Rome, and embodied in the renowned figures such as Alexander the Great, Napoleon and Hitler.
Imagine with me, for just a moment, if Hitler had emerged from World War II as the leader of the world? Or envision the world if Stalin and the USSR had prevailed in the Cold War? What would it be like today if Al Qaeda and its philosophy reigned?
Thankfully we can only imagine such a world, because America has stood as a firewall against philosophies such as communism, socialism, and terrorism. Because of America’s ascendance, the world has been freer, safer, and more prosperous.
Despite having a military with the capacity to take on any nation, and a nuclear arsenal that could destroy the planet multiple times over, the United States has constrained itself and used its influence for good rather than evil.
Due to our unique history, the precious value of freedom has been tightly woven into the moral fabric of our nation. Therefore, we have not only preserved that for ourselves, but also gone to great lengths in blood and treasure to give others the opportunity to live in freedom. In his farewell address, President Ronald Reagan told the story of a boy that spotted a Sailor on the US Midway in the South China Sea and stood up on his leaky little boat and called out, “Hello, American sailor. Hello, freedom man.”
So what is my country? To me, America is a nation that, although imperfect, has an exceptional history that gives me hope for the future. For, over the course of only 237 years, we emerged, against all odds, and developed into an economic powerhouse and world superpower. There has never been a country like the United States that has used its vast power to be a force for good and freedom rather than tyrannical gain and persecution.
In a more personal sense, America is also my home. This is where I have the fondest memories of growing up. Despite the turmoil around us, I want my children to have the opportunity to grow up like I did. I don’t have an inspiring story of rags to riches; I’m just an average American. My fondest memories of growing up in Springfield include time with my family, going to church, mowing yards with my brothers, playing football in the backyard, going to school and playing high school basketball. I grew up being taught to love God, work very hard, value education, and always do my best.
My parents raised me to believe that being just an average American is one of the greatest blessings of my life. The fact that, somehow, I got to be an American and have unlimited opportunity ahead of me, while standing on the shoulders of all those who have gone before me, is something that I don’t ever want to take for granted. Fighting for my country, I will always remember the privileges granted to all of us “average Americans.” Throughout history, only a small percentage of people have been afforded the opportunity and freedom that I have known all my life. And millions today would do anything to be an American.
You see, although America has its past flaws and present challenges, our nation was founded upon principles. We have never perfectly lived up to those, but we are constantly striving to overcome our shortcomings to leave a better nation for our posterity.
As I look all around me, I can become discouraged about what I see. Sometimes it makes me stop in my tracks and wonder if I made the right choice to sign up to put my life on the line. However, I will not allow our shortcomings to cause me to walk away and deem our country unworthy of service. In my commissioning ceremony at the Clark County Courthouse in downtown Springfield, I stood in my dress blues across from my brother, Ryan, in his Navy whites. I raised my right hand and swore to, “Protect and defend the Constitution of the United States against All enemies.”
Every morning I wake up early, put on my uniform, tie up my boots and get ready for another day of rigorous training. I am being prepared and equipped to stand ready with my fellow service members to answer the call of duty and carry out the orders of the Commander in Chief. In that time, whether it is when I am freezing this winter while conducting a night training exercise or missing my family while far from home, I sometimes question why I volunteered for this.
It is in those moments that I do not have to look far to be reminded of why I serve. I spot that Star Spangled Banner, and my mind flashes back like a movie. I see it there, blowing in the wind at my grandma’s farm in northern Ohio, hanging on the gymnasium wall before a game, snapping in the air on the large pole outside of the school. I see it as depicted on a post card I received while at Officer Candidate School, raised above the Capitol, with the sun setting and overlooking the national monuments. Most dearly, I see the large 8x5 flag hanging in my room at my parent’s house, as it has since I was 6 years old. And I see Old Glory mounted on the post off the front porch of my childhood home in Springfield. That red, white, and blue banner that I can place in nearly every memory of my days growing up in my home state of Ohio. The principles and ideals that the American flag represents is why I serve my country and am proud to do so.
Therefore, I answer with unwavering confidence that America is worthy of being defended. We have an incredible legacy to preserve, and we are a force for good in the world. Ronald Reagan’s words still ring true today, that, “You and I have a rendezvous with destiny. We will preserve for our children this, the last best hope of man on earth, or we will sentence them to take the first step into a thousand years of darkness.”
America is my home and I will proudly defend her with my fellow service members. Together, we will carry on the legacy of all those who have gone before us that have served from the Revolution to the Global War on Terror. I do so to ensure that no matter what comes our way, at the end of the battle, our children will be able to look up and see that “our flag is still there.”