April 24th, 1972 is a day that I first raised my hand.
Like most kids, I was cocky, self centered, in too much of a hurry to be grown up and not as disciplined as I should have been. But everything began to change on that day. Up until that point, my recruiter had been the face of the Navy . He was a Senior Chief Machinist Mate named James Dotson and he was the head recruiter out of the McKeesport Pennsylvania office.
I actually signed the initial paperwork on April 19th with Mom and Dad having to sign as well. I was only seventeen. The swearing in occurred a few days later in Pittsburgh at the MEPS station in the Federal Building. That was my first exposure to standing in line at attention. It was also a chance to figure out that this was definitely different than hanging out with my friends. Even though it was the screening phase, I sensed that a higher level of discipline was coming. My Dad had been in the Navy in World War 2 so he told me the day before about not being so mouthy or they would let me know what was what in a hurry.
After a full day of testing and examinations to determine that I had all of the correct parts for a male wanting to join the illustrious Navy, they herded us all into a room with 1960’s paneling, an American and a Navy Flag placed next to a rostrum, and only one door besides the one we entered. Mom and Dad entered that door along with a few other parents and girlfriends. We all lined up at the “X” marks on the floor facing the front and stood at what passed for attention until the officer came in. I do not remember the short speech he made but it had something to do with repeating the oath and understanding what it would mean for the journey we were about to begin. I also vaguely remember him saying that it was something we should do with no reservations. I looked over at my Mom and she had a handkerchief in her hand to wipe away the wetness from her eyes.
He asked us to raise our right arms. A voice inside was telling me that this was a bigger deal than it seemed a few days before when I signed the first paperwork. That day, April 19, was my Dad’s birthday. He had been in boot camp for his eighteenth birthday.
Repeat after me
“I, __________, do solemnly swear (or affirm) 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; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God.”
73 words not counting the enlistee’s name.
Such simple words with such profound meanings. I was an ignorant teenager the first time I held my right arm in the air to repeat those words on April 24th, 1972.
Like most kids, I may have read bits and pieces of the Constitution during my years of school, but I couldn’t tell you much about the specific sections.For the record, I swore. I swore each time I reenlisted and I certainly swore when I became a Chief Warrant Officer. Every man and woman I reenlisted chose to swear as well. I would actually ask them in private before their ceremony which they preferred and asked them about what they thought it meant.
I will support and defend the Constitution:
Supporting it means that I will follow it and expect my leaders to set examples that are worthy of its intent. There are three branches of government to maintain a balance in the way things are done. That balance ensures that none of the three gain too much power. If the Executive Branch tries to usurp the legitimate power of either of the other two, it must be held to account. It’s harder to govern that way, but it gives a greater chance that the will of the people will not be over-ridden in the process. The balance works equally across all three branches. That is the beauty of the Republic that we live in.
“I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same”
with the exception of anything contradictory under the Uniform Code of Military Justice. Unless the UCMJ is ultimately proven to be wrong such as Article 125 concerning Sodomy. (This is still sort of a family blog so you will have to look that one up to see what formerly was not a “Best Practice”).
“I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice.”
The President is the Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces. Whether you like them or not, you are taking a solemn oath to obey their orders. In a civilized society, this is an important rule in order for the military to be able to perform its sworn duty and follow the Constitution.
Without this clause, there could be chaos. With this clause, there could be a form of tyranny. We might see helicopters with armed men flying over major cities. We might see armored vehicles routinely travelling the highways of America. The military could relieve local and state officials in the case of an emergency proclamation that is created by a large crisis.
So help me God