My turn: Why I wear this uniform

Published 12:00 am Sunday, January 23, 2011

By Major John G. Misenheimer Jr.

Napoleon Bonaparte once said “a soldier will fight long and hard for a bit of colored ribbon.” While I agree with Napoleon’s logic, I believe people choose to serve their country in uniform for much deeper motives. There are three distinct reasons I choose to serve in the U.S. Army for our great nation: to follow family traditions, to protect and secure our freedoms and to assist less fortunate nations.
First, I choose to serve in the Army to carry out a long family tradition. I will never forget discovering my father’s U.S. Air Force medals ribbons, and photographs inside a dusty shoebox when I was 7 years old. He was standing amongst his brethren in combat during Vietnam beside an Air Force fighter jet, each airmen leaning against one another, and holding their beverage of choice while donning an Airmen mechanic’s uniform. A few years later, I vividly remember both my grandfather and my great uncle proudly sharing stories, photographs and identification tags with me of when they served both in the Marine Corps and Navy during World War II. And most humbling, while I never met my mother’s father before he passed away, I learned from my grandmother about how he swept her off of her feet in his Army dress uniform before their marriage. These traditions took root as my character developed and steered me toward a path of service (JROTC, USMA and commissioning as an Army officer) that I continue today.
I also serve in order to join my brothers and sisters in arms to secure and defend our freedoms. Our Constitution and Bill of Rights provide every American more freedoms and opportunities than any other country across the globe. The American public, including myself, tend to take for granted simple luxuries such as freedom of speech, religion, and equal opportunity. This is partly due to the fact that less than 1 percent of the U.S. population chooses to serve in our armed forces today. However, I believe the defining reason that people forget the cost of their freedoms lies in the fact that soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines around the globe, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, prevent foreign enemies from invading our soil. As many have witnessed over the last eight years during Operations Iraqi and Enduring Freedom, securing those freedoms requires an enormous price. Sometimes the price is bloodshed, other times the price is painful hours of negotiation, separation from family or other hardships. However, it was not until I interacted with hundreds of third country nationals from Afghanistan, Iraq, and other impoverished nations during deployments that I truly learned to appreciate the drastic differences between my freedoms and theirs. For me, knowing I can contribute to securing the very essence of “the red, white and blue,” whether directly on a non-linear battlefield or processing documents in garrison, gives me a sense of accomplishment.
With pride and tradition comes belief in ones’ values and existence, which explains my third reason for serving my country. As I look back at the history of America’s conflicts, wars and crisis assistance efforts, it is crystal-clear that our military, specifically the U.S. Army, has a longstanding commitment and track record of selflessly helping nations in need. While attempting to avoid controversial topics such as the treatment of Vietnam veterans and the reason for invading Iraq, I must point out that during the majority of our nation’s last 100 years, our country spent massive efforts providing crisis assistance, aid, nation building, peacekeeping and security for several countries across Europe, Africa, South America, the Middle East, and Asia — all without requesting fiscal remittance. The values and truths our country holds self-evident extend past our borders and continue to aid less fortunate people across the globe. I was fortunate to experience these actions firsthand during Iraqi secondary school reconstruction efforts in 2003, and Afghan security, governance, and infrastructure development this past year. Both experiences displayed our Army’s ability and compassion to improve lives and create sovereignty for the Iraqi and Afghan people.
Whether you condone or oppose the choice to intervene and assist nations during war or crises, I am convinced the majority of soldiers who render training and assistance spearhead these missions without prejudice, selfishness or reprisal. Regardless of the “bad apples” that at times have soured the public’s taste for the Army (Abu-Ghraib), the majority of those who serve exemplify our values, integrity and the American way of life.
While there are many other reasons that soldiers choose to serve this great country, these three — tradition, securing our freedoms and assisting others — are why I choose to serve. I pray that I am able to continue this privilege for the next 10-plus years, and I will continue to honor the legacy that our nation’s forefathers and veterans left for us to enjoy and live freely.

Major John G. Misenheimer Jr. grew up in Salisbury and attended South Rowan High. He currently serves at the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, Kan.

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