(This is an archive written by the late Leslie Centanni. July, 2005) One of the first things I asked when I got to basics in Orlando was what the "G.I." in G.I. Joe meant. "Government issue!" was the derisive response. "It means you belong to the government now." "But I'm in the Navy, not the Army!" I protested, which brought a healthy snort and an aside of "dumbass"! So I learned, military style... when you join the military, you bind yourself to something bigger than yourself. Even though military people are separated by branches, which is exploited amongst ourselves with often hilarious results, they are still part of the same team. Suddenly, the simple words of our oath of service take on consequence, weight. You realize something profound, something that makes the words "rank and file" real and important:
"I do solemnly swear 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."
Looking back over the years at the shiny faces of my boot camp buddies, captured forever in a sunny, hopeful graduation picture, the searing realities faced by today's soldiers, sailors, marines, and airmen come sharply into focus. I was never called upon to lay down my life for my country, and my contribution pales in comparison to the many men and women who have sacrificed life and limb. But my heart was willing to be in that position, if so called by my nation, and I like to believe I would have answered that call with honor and courage. Each hopeful face beside me in that picture says the same thing. Being a member of the rank and file meant any one of us, on any given day, could be called upon for the ultimate sacrifice. Our oneness with the fallen is painfully real.
Having served as a woman in the military, there was another aspect to service life, and that was the notion of how to manage male/female roles in relation to combat situations. When people speak of women in combat, it speaks to the greater notion of inherent differences between men and women. It's my feeling that military women have a deep understanding of and appreciation for the inborn disposition of men to protect women. There have been numerous surveys of servicemen and women done over the years, and the bottom line is, no more than 10% have ever considered it acceptable to put women into combat positions, volunteer or not. Women who serve in the more dangerous assignments are uniquely called, and generally do not question the preference of any person, male or female, to avoid such duty as theirs. The truth is, most military women don't find their male counterparts offensive in this regard, and frankly aren't much interested in outsider opinions.
Whereas men are innately designed to wield physical strength and establish order through power, women have an inborn disposition to ensure unity. We lend strength through structure, endurance through fortification. Most military men have a deep appreciation for our indispensable, dare I say, female contributions. Together, military men and women share a world outside the understanding of their "civilians" counterparts. It's a career choice that evokes a less politically correct, more instinctively poignant view of social structures. Not unlike other life-or-death jobs, people find a place where they can make the best contribution to the whole, and derive fulfillment from their place in and service to the hierarchy.
But there are soldiers in many walks of life, some of whom never carry a weapon. Martin Luther King was such person. He demonstrated the power of teamwork at its most profound level, and evoked the primal desire of each one of us to count, and to be counted. He showed us if the cause is noble enough, the truth compelling enough, we can and should join to another, and through sheer strength of numbers, make change happen. In times of great change, it's about standing, and having done all, to continue standing. It was never about one person, it was about every person... how if one fell, another took their place. No fanfare, no reward, just doing your duty by your fellow human being, and for many, by God.
Making a decision to march together, whether as a nation, a company, a family, or a world... we know there will be differences of opinion, and occasionally, dissension in the ranks. But it should not lead to an unraveling of the whole. The institutions of justice, commerce, government, and diplomacy exist to serve the greater good of their nations, which is we the people, each and every one. The desire to live in a civilized world has compelled humans from the beginning of time to establish relationships, to help those who cannot help themselves, to reach outside our own lives to touch the lives of others. Since institutions make us a civilized nation, and civilization is the alternative to chaos, our leaders in business and government have a moral obligation to stop tearing at the fabric of our nation, and instead devote their energies to actually solving our problems.
Even the most primitive of humans understood symbolism. Today, the world stands on a precipice of a change that will alter the course of life for untold millions. The establishment of Iraq as a democratic nation of people guided by self-rule is history in the making. The world will always harbor unfairness and injustice, terror and tyranny, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't rejoice when truth and freedom triumphs. When a corporate scandal is exposed, it doesn't mean we must hang our heads in shame and dismantle our powerbrokers. We should rejoice that the deceptions were uncovered, and move quickly to remove the parasitic hosts. The people in these long-neglected countries deserve no less than our civilized best to help them achieve true freedom. There is no better symbol of freedom than a freewill election, so we will do the right thing, and stand by their side.
A longstanding symbol of celebratory American life is the inauguration of a President. The President is a person elected through the free will of American citizens, and represents our nation to the world community. Each one of us owes it to every American before us, and every one to follow, to stand solidly beside our symbol of leadership as that person stands before the world to take their oath of service. We can take up our matters of concern, whatever they may be, in honorable and civilized privacy. The bloated meanderings of dissenters like Ted Kennedy and Michael Moore should be relegated to their fan magazines, so that patriotic adults can get some real work done.
This may be difficult for the more vocal in our society to understand, but it's time to put an end to the strife. Since the notion of being a good soldier is anathema to the intellectual elite, let me give you a little advice. Start by being grateful for those who peel potatoes, fix engines, order supplies, pull guard duty, hand out mail, dress wounds, wipe away tears, and carry the weight of the world on their shoulders. Reflect on the sacrifices of those who come to your house when danger is upon you, or pull you from the river when you're caught in a flood.
But most of all, whatever you do, Fly the Colors.