Service not put away with uniform

Published: November 10, 2020

The day I joined the Marine Corps, I raised my right hand and swore to support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic. 

For those of us who have worn the cloth, this solemn oath to our Constitution binds us to act even after we take off the uniform and return to our communities. 

Veterans have crucial roles to embrace in our continuing mission as leaders. President George W. Bush frequently says we have a responsibility to honor our veterans and to empower them to continue to serve as national assets. He has called veterans to a new mission — to contribute to the security and sustained health of our democracy as civilians. 

Never has that been more important than today amid the challenges facing our democracy and the struggle by our divided and anxious nation to contain a pandemic. The rancor in our national discourse is affecting our military, veterans and country. 

Trust in our national institutions, including our all-volunteer force, is ebbing. The deepening civil-military divide “threatens the reputation of the armed forces as the most trusted institution in the country,” as well as national security, according to a recent report by the Center for a New American Security. A 2019 Blue Star Families survey reveals 40 percent of military families don’t feel they belong in their civilian communities. 

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These are sobering statistics for anyone who has worn the uniform — and should be for the entire country. We veterans are in a sense inseparable from the all-volunteer force we served in. 

Post-9/11 was the first period in our nation’s history in which we fought an extended conflict with our all-volunteer force. In the past 19 years, more than 4 million service members have answered the call, and deployed to Iraq, Afghanistan and other theaters of conflict. 

Our all-volunteer force represents the best of our nation, truly diverse with many different stories and backgrounds, all joined under the ideal of service above self. The nation desperately needs those values and skills. 

So what can we do now, in this moment? 

We can remember our oath to defend the Constitution and recommit ourselves to the enduring prospect of our democracy. 

We can choose to be informed — not inflamed — and engage in thoughtful discourse, rather than thoughtless attacks on fellow Americans who may hold different views. 

We can lead in our communities, hand in hand with those who never served, to knit together the fabric of our nation. The current civil misunderstandings are as much our responsibility to address as anyone else’s. No one will do it for us. 

The 2017 Veterans Civic Health Index shows we are doing exactly that: “Veterans are our strongest pillar of civic health. Veterans are volunteering, voting, and getting involved in their communities at rates higher than their non-veteran counterparts.” 

But we can’t let up. 

Let us never forget that we are so blessed today because of all of those who have committed themselves to our freedom, prosperity and standing in the world, whether current service members, veterans or civilians. 

Perhaps it’s not what we veterans contributed yesterday — although we should be very proud of that — it’s what can we contribute today and tomorrow. 

The oath mattered when we were in uniform — and it matters now. Let’s show our nation and the world what we are made of. 

San Antonio Express-News
Service not put away with uniform
November 10, 2020 

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