Thursday, January 24, 2013

Serving well and faithfully

I’ve had the opportunity lately to reflect on the oath of office that all officers take.  If you’re not familiar with it, here is the whole text:
"I, _____ , having been appointed an officer in the Army of the United States, as indicated above in the grade of _____ 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; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office upon which I am about to enter; So help me God."
The passage that jumps out at me is the one about well and faithfully discharging the duties, etc.  There are two salient points here- one, that we swear to discharge our duties well, and two, that we swear to do it faithfully. 
The “well” part is straightforward enough.  We swear to be good at our jobs.  Be the best platoon leader, xo, company commander, staff officer, whatever that we can be.  Take care of our Soldiers.  Maintain ourselves.  Learn as much as we can and better ourselves.
The "faithfully" part is the one that seems to be giving a lot of people trouble, especially lately with the current political climate.  A lot of things have happened recently, from the election to Benghazi to the gun control debate going on now, and there is a lot of division in the country.  Here’s the thing, though: we members of the military can’t play in it.  Not overtly, anyway.  Oh, we can have opinions, and we can vote or contribute to causes.  But we don’t get to participate publically in the debates.  We don’t get to badmouth elected or appointed officials (it’s even in the regulations!)  We are supposed to be apolitical.  It’s part of the social contract that we make as members of the profession of arms. 
But more than that- when we accuse the Commander in Chief or a senator or someone of doing something illegal, or immoral, or unconstitutional, and we do so in a public forum, or when we use offensive nicknames, we’re not exercising our right to free speech.  We’re undermining the basis of our own authority, and we are proving ourselves faithless.
Faithfully also means that we will do unpleasant things, sometimes things that we disagree with.  I’m not talking about unethical or illegal orders—faithfulness also demands that we refuse to obey those.  But sometimes we have to serve a national political strategy that we oppose, or subject ourselves to commanders whose leadership style or personality we despise.  The point is, we swear an oath to do this.  We choose to sacrifice certain of our rights in order to preserve the rights of other people.  What discharging our duties faithfully requires is that we do this willingly.

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