Tom in Iraq as a Military Observer

Tom in Iraq as a Military Observer
They sent me here just to watch...

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Address to Veterans at Burns Flat - Dill City High School Program

I was privileged to be the keynote speaker at the Veterans Day program hosted by the Government Club in the Burns Flat - Dill City School System.  These were my remarks.

Who likes music?  Think of a song that starts and ends with questions.  I will get back to that.

For now, let us will move on to another question:  Why do we celebrate  Veteran’s Day?

It’s on the calendar.  It is what you do on November 11th.  You didn’t invent this day but you are making a special effort to observe it and to recognize these men and women that collectively we call veterans.

You might come up with reasons such as:
They served their country.
They sacrificed.

They are the less than one-half of one percent of the population of this country that put their hands in the air and said:

I do solemnly swear 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. The oath continues with words about committing to following orders.

Officers of the armed forces continue with that I take this obligation freely without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion, that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office I am about to enter, SO HELP ME GOD!

This is a little bigger commitment than when you sign on to work with Halliburton, McDonald’s, or Walmart.

This is just to get you in.  You still have to get through boot camp.  Some may be tougher than others, but you still have to finish this period of initial screening and orientation.

Then comes the real commitment.  Consider the words of the original Code of Conduct.  It has been updated to be more gender neutral now, but this is the one that I learned long ago.


1. I am an American fighting man. I serve in the forces which guard my country and our way of life. I am prepared to give my life in their defense.
2. I will never surrender of my own free will. If in command, I will never surrender my men while they still have the means to resist.
3. If I am captured, I will continue to resist by all means available. I will make every effort to escape and aid others to escape. I will accept neither parole nor special favors from the enemy.
4. If I become a prisoner of war, I will keep faith with my fellow prisoners. I will give no information, or take part in any action which might be harmful to my comrades. If I am senior, I will take command. If not, I will obey the lawful orders of those appointed over me and will back them up in every way.
5. When questioned, should I become a prisoner of war, I am bound to give only name, rank, service number and date of birth. I will evade answering further questions to the utmost of my ability. I will make no oral or written statements disloyal to my country and its allies or harmful to their cause.
6. I will never forget that I am an American fighting man, responsible for my actions, and dedicated to the principles which made my country free. I will trust in my God and in the United States of America.

These men and women seated to my right and left know this level of commitment.

It is a little more than being asked to work a couple hours overtime or work outside on a rainy day.

You can bet that your boss will yell at you more than once and you and you learn to take the correction and make yourself a little better for it.

These men and women know that it is not just about them.  Leaving a buddy behind on the battlefield is unthinkable.

Lowering standards is unconscionable.

A half hearted effort in training deserves the wrath of the sergeant or captain running the exercise.

The men and women that you see before you have lived the mantra that the more you sweat in peace, the less you bleed in war.

There is good reason to set aside a day to recognize these men and women.

But a question remains:  Why is this day important to you.  What does Veterans Day mean to you.  How is it relevant to you?

The answer is tougher than you might think for you must ask yourself, “What do you value?”

Do you value liberty?

How can you know for it is all that you have ever known?  You can study your history but all you have ever known is liberty.  All that you have ever known is freedom.  You have never tasted tyranny or feared dictatorship.  Most of you have never been to another country, especially one where freedom is not a given commodity.

How can you know that liberty is something worth valuing.
I suggest that you get a few moments with one of these men or women sometime and just listen to what they know.

What do you value?

Do you value opportunity?  Education, work, military service, are all options available to almost everyone one here.  But most of you have never known anything else.

Talk with these men and women who have seen the world and know just how blessed we are.

There is a lot of talk among candidates for president of the United States about illegal immigration, even building a wall across our southern border.  Do you know what I hear when I hear all of this political babble?

More people still want to get into this country than want out of it.  
Nobody to speak of is trying to leave and unless you broke the law and are being pursued by the law, nobody is trying to stop you if you want to go.

But so many still see our country as a land full of opportunity.  If we could only have the eyes of those desperately trying to get into our country, we might value what we have a little more.

Finally, do we value efficacy?

Efficacy is the power to make desired change.  Self efficacy is the power to make changes that we desire in ourselves.

Some examples:
·       To develop better study habits
·       To bench press 30 more pounds
·       To learn a second language
·       To quit a bad habit
·       To give up profane language

The list is what you want it to be.

Efficacy as a nation is to set our own course as a free people in a modern world.  Can we still do this?  Do we have the commitment to do this?

About 240 years ago, 13 colonies started forming an army, navy, and Marine Corps because they wanted a nation that could be self directed.  Brave men served and died forming this country.

Do we still value what we have here enough to serve in the armed forces of the United States of America?

Are we ready to fight for what we have?  Is it worth it?  Or will we watch it slowly slip away?

There is the long standing analogy of the frog place in a pot of boiling water.  It will jump out.  It doesn’t have to think about it.  There is no deliberation.  It jumps out.

But if you put a different  frog—you are never going to catch that first frog again—in a pot of room temperature water and slowly turn up the temperature 1 degree at a time, it doesn’t take too long until you have boiled frog.

It never knew what hit it.

Most people go through life never knowing what they have and what they might be losing day to day and year to year.  A small segment of our society—our service men and women—remain vigilant, watchful, and ready to preserve what most people don’t even realize they have.

Fewer than one half of one percent stand ready to preserve what our founding fathers thought was precious enough to offer their lives just to give it a chance of success.

A very few people have stepped forward to preserve for us this grand experiment that we call the United States of America.
See if these words don’t sound familiar:

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

Secure the blessings of liberty for this generation and those to come.

Secure the blessings of Liberty—what a charge.  Who can live up to this?  Who will stand and fight against those who would take this from us?

You are looking at many of them seated before you.

The challenge set forth in the Preamble to the Constitution is for everyone in this country, but only a small percentage will set aside their lives and livelihood to ensure the blessings of liberty for us all.

We are still talking about efficacy—the power to effect desired change, the power to preserve those things that we value.

As I look at you, I wonder who among you has the determination to step out of a culture that promotes selfishness and take on the yoke of service.  Who among you will pick up the torch of liberty for the generations to come?

These are some noble thoughts.  These are serious decisions to make.  Some of you may yet be a few years from making these decisions, or at least you think that you are.

For what you do today impacts whether or not you might be able to serve.  One of the best indicators of whether or not an individual can successfully negotiate basic training in the armed forces is high school graduation.

Do you finish what you start?

You might be thinking, I’m not going to college, why should I be serious about my schooling.  High school graduation—not a drop out and a GED—but graduation is a strong indicator that you can complete boot camp, and by the way, many other endeavors that will come along in life.

Do you finish what you start?

Now you must know that there is a price to be paid for serving.  It is called sacrifice.

Some sacrifice being close to family.  Some sacrifice personal liberty, even those liberties that they fight to preserve.  And some will be called to sacrifice their lives.

Thomas Jefferson once said:

The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.

Serving your country in the armed forces sometimes exacts that last full measure of devotion.  Should you serve, you may not return to enjoy the liberties for which you fought.

War is an ugly thing.  Understand that war is an ugly business.
But also under this about war—I read from the British philosopher John Stuart Mill.

“War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things: the decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feeling which thinks that nothing is worth a war, is much worse. When a people are used as mere human instruments for firing cannon or thrusting bayonets, in the service and for the selfish purposes of a master, such war degrades a people. A war to protect other human beings against tyrannical injustice; a war to give victory to their own ideas of right and good, and which is their own war, carried on for an honest purpose by their free choice, — is often the means of their regeneration. A man who has nothing which he is willing to fight for, nothing which he cares more about than he does about his personal safety, is a miserable creature who has no chance of being free, unless made and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself. As long as justice and injustice have not terminated their ever-renewing fight for ascendancy in the affairs of mankind, human beings must be willing, when need is, to do battle for the one against the other.”
I began by asking a question about a song that started and ended with a question—at least the first verse of the song, that’s the one most of us know.  Maybe you thought of one.  Here is the one that I thought of.  It begins:

Oh, say can you see by the dawn’s early light
What so proudly we hailed at the twilight’s last gleaming?

Does this idea, this grand experiment, this noble idea of a country still have a chance?  Did we survive the night?

Are we going to have a chance at this bizarre concept of self government?  Can we just survive the night?  Can we just last one more day at having a chance at our dream of self government, self-determination, freedom, and the prospect of liberty and justice for all.

The question at the end of the verse is just as dramatic:

Oh, say does that star-spangled banner yet wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?

Does today’s generation still value freedom enough that brave men and women still step forward out of the ranks of the self centered into the ranks of selfless service.

The men and women seated before have said yes.

What will you say?

Are you willing to preserve the blessings of liberty for your children and grandchildren?

What will you say? 

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