October 11, 2013

A Soldier Reflects: Spirit of Service Lost in American Politicians

So there I was, no shit, sweating like crazy off in the heat of a dark, muggy Georgia night in July. Packed into a barracks filled with 49 other sweaty bastards, completely bewildered, wondering how the hell I ended up at United States Army Infantry Basic Training at the age of 17, a mere month after graduating from high school.

As soon as that thought crossed my mind, I glanced at my new Timex digital watch, and realized I had another 55 minutes of fireguard before I could get back in bed and attempt to sleep for a few hours before breakfast. For those who don’t know, fireguard in the military is pretty much what it sounds like: keeping watch while everyone sleeps, or if a fire is burning at night, keeping it burning while making sure no hapless fool’s sleeping bag melts to their skin. This was my assigned duty. As a brand new Private First Class with a heady four days of military experience under my belt, I took pride in this job. I wanted to be the best damn fireguard I could possibly be. I even put on my boots to help break them in as I quietly stalked the barracks floor with my new L-shaped flashlight (with red lens of course). I was on duty. I was serving.

A week prior to this evening, I was standing in the ceremony room at Fort Benjamin Harrison, Indianapolis, swearing an oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic. Eight years after my own enlistment, I was standing in the back of a ceremony room watching my first recruit swear his oath of enlistment. Strangely, until watching my first oath of enlistment, the weight of that moment never truly dawned on me. Looking at it all now, the memory of that night on fireguard running at high alert was my first taste of the duty which I swore to carry out: following the lawful orders of those appointed over me.

With each passing day, it seems that many of our elected representatives forget the oath they each swore to the Constitution. Just as new privates have their general orders to learn and abide, our Representatives and Senators have rules lined out within Constitution. Not the least of which is to approve a fucking budget to be signed by the President. Unfortunately, a budget hasn’t been sign so money hasn’t been appropriate for certain things… like fulfilling promises to those who volunteer to serve in the military and support the same Constitution the elected representatives effectively ignore.

Waking up at 0200 to a torrential downpour soaking all your gear is not pleasant. Missing the birthdays of your children because you’re on the polar opposite side of the planet is not ideal. Hearing the news that one of your brothers was all but evaporated by an IED is not the best case scenario. But we do these things because we serve. Members of the military have no trouble being reminded of this, because someone is either screaming in our face if we forget, or we live with the reality that someone will have to go inform a family that their loved one was killed in service to their country.

Some government servants however, appear to be more equal than others. Some servants are protected not only from rebuke and criticism, but from accountability or even adjudication itself. Some servants are serving only themselves, not those that chose them to represent their interests. Some servants ignore the very document that affords them the authority to send others to foreign lands. Some servants are not servants, and when this happens they become tyrants.

This is not the first time Congress has failed to perform the simple tasks in which they are charged. This is not the first time the Executive Branch failed to navigate through the morass of disagreement. Nor is it the first time that leaders have acted like petulant children with zero personal accountability.

While it is true that many Americans are more likely to describe the physiological dangers of twerking and the potential affects it will have on the next Oprah interview, some Americans actually remember their Oath of Enlistment because it was scorched into their psyche. It should be mentioned, the words “enemies, foreign and domestic” are not included merely for idle lip service. Elected officials would be wise to remember this, and that they are accountable to the citizens of this country, and that they serve the people.

Right now, there is a 17 year old private at Fort Benning pacing the floor of his barracks performing his duty, taking on his shoulders the very tangible burden that his life is no longer his own. He recognizes that his form of government is imperfect, but he swore to bear true faith and allegiance to the same document that his elected representatives and his Commander-in-Chief swore to. He truly bears the heart of a servant. In contrast, there appears to be a major deficiency of the same spirit of service in American politicians.

About the Author

is a former Army Special Forces soldier who spent time at 1st Special Forces Group and 20th Special Forces Group between 2004 and 2008. He currently works with the Green Beret Foundation, a non-profit charity focused on supporting wounded and killed Special Forces soldiers and their families. Blake is currently pursuing a bachelors degree in general studies... you know, just to get it over with. Twitter: @bmiles84

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  • YankeePapa

    . ...In June of 1877 Congress simply adjourned without bothering to approve a budget for the Army.  From June until November there was no funding.This was not good for any of the soldiers... but especially those on the frontier. . ...It was bad enough that pay was often late on the frontier... often by months... leaving the men to maybe borrow from the First Sgt. at ugly rates.  First Shirt would be standing at the pay table to get his when the time came... and in those days the officers took no notice. . ...Worse, the Army decided for its convenience to pay the troops on the frontier in paper money.  Pay was supposed to be in "specie..." but greenbacks easier to transport.  Paper money had a bad reputation... massive amount of counterfeiting... So businesses on the frontier would only accept it from the soldiers at a discount, up to 30%... The farther from civilization the post... the heavier the discount.   . ...So when Congress did not authorize *any* funds... post commanders sometimes issued IOU s in the name of the Government that promised to redeem... "if and when" authorization came through.  Businesses on the frontier routinely discounted at a rate of 50%...   .  ...Meanwhile the Army soldiered on.  That year soldiers died fighting the Sioux, Cheyenne, and Apaches.  For $ 13. a month for privates (before any discounts...) . -YP-

  • stjblizzard

    Well articulated!!!!  Todays politicians are puppets on strings pulled by big business and those with deeper pockets.  Our leaders and society today in the United States make me question should I still be proud to be an American?  We have become selfish and self absorbed and I worry about our future.  Our leaders are suppose to set the example of what a true American is.  Are they? Leaders take advantage of those that have voted them into office.  Civil rights are taken way daily.  The rich get richer and the middle class is being choked out of existance.  Too many people are struggling to make ends meet and politicians take away our rights to protect our selves.   Is it the goal of our government to make its people helpless, defenseless and reliant upon big brother for their invidual exisitance?  Where are we headed? I consider myself a  true patriot of orginal morals this country was build upon.  Our forefathers are rolling in their graves. Desert Strorm Veteran

  • Kendoist4162

    Well said Blake. I miss America.

  • JohnChristopher1

    "We are a constitutional republic so the majority may not impose on the minority." Well, that's not entirely true. Yes, there are some areas which clearly preempt what majorities may do (to the minority), areas of life in which the individual ought be free of majority rule (see the Bill of Rights). On the other hand, the other guiding principle of American self-government is that there are many areas of life that majorities, should they choose to, are entitled to rule, simply because they are majorities. The problem is that neither majorities nor minorities can generally be trusted to define either. Which is why, as we can see in real-time, American government is structured to have elected officials operate within a system designed to frustrate their intentions. (If you want to blame someone, go for the guy in green, in front of Washington.)

  • Diabloffroad

    Id say just follow your heart, there's so few younger people these days that seem to have honor and integrity. Go through your life being the best person you can be so when you lay your head down at night, you know you gave a 110%. Its younger people like you who give me hope.