When you raised your right hand and swore “to defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic,” you not only joined a long line of Americans who have served our nation for over 240 years, but like four generations of Howes, Sapiens, Emmarts and Millers before you, you became the newest member of our “family business.”
With that selfless act, you have made your first real adult decision to place service to others above self. You own something that some spend their entire lives seeking: clarity of purpose. Your mission is clear: to lead soldiers to fight and win our nation’s wars. In so doing, you ensure the security, safety and prosperity of the American people, while preserving our freedoms and the global liberal democratic order that millions before you fought and died for. If America does not lead, someone else will.
Service comes in many forms. Be humble in yours. It takes supreme self-confidence to move to the sound of the guns while bearing your nation’s colors. But do not allow confidence to become arrogance. Humility is not timidity. Be confident, be fierce, become a master of your new trade and know that others are also serving in schools, hospitals, businesses and communities across America.
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Your service will come with great sacrifice. You are embracing a lifestyle of challenge, struggle and hardship. They don’t call it sacrifice for nothing. But in adversity is both opportunity and growth. No profession will sharpen your mind, character and body like the military. While we are extremely proud of you, your mother and I have been to too many funerals and hospital visits to not also be extremely worried. As you will one day learn, nothing is more important to any parent than your health, safety, well-being and happiness. You can’t ever make that worry go away, but write, text and call your mom. A lot.
Your eventual family (no rush!) will sacrifice more than you do. You are always answering your calling and following your passion; they will simply choose to love and support you. They will bear the less obvious costs of moves, separations, constant worry, finances and postponement of civilian careers. In choosing this life, you do not choose a path to wealth, but the military is a pathway to a lifetime of opportunity and prosperity.
I am envious of you and the amazing journey you are beginning. While we don’t know the specifics of your journey, the elements will be similar to the rest in our family: purpose, belonging, adventure and development of new skills. You will have a community and sense of belonging with those who share the same purpose and mission as you. Ask any veteran, what do you miss most about military service and the immediate answer is always, “the people.” The bond you will share with your fellow warriors is unique and in some ways more intimate than your own blood.
You will live a life of adventure. My own adventure included: 36 countries in 24 years; patrolling jungles, mountains, deserts, villages and sprawling metropolises. It also included unique moments: hanging out of an airplane marveling at a pod of humpback whales; dodging Malaysian tree vipers; avoiding getting impaled by jagged tree stumps leaping into the Panama Canal from a chopper; eating Christmas dinner on an Ecuadorean jungle mountaintop surrounded by land mines; seeing the purple fingers of Iraqis voting for the first time; feeling the Afghan army commander place his giant hand on my shoulder the morning after we killed Osama bin Laden and whispering in my ear, “We told you he was in Pakistan.”
No organization develops leaders and teams like the military. We have no choice; the preservation of our nation is predicated upon it. Early on, you will be entrusted with leadership and management responsibilities unlike any other. You will lead teams, learn to make decisions and handle adversity in the most stressful circumstances on the planet. You will develop technical skills and distinctive capabilities that one day, regardless of how long you serve in uniform, will make you a tremendous asset in whatever endeavor you pursue after the Army.
Your mother and I have worked to instill in you core values of honor, integrity, respect, compassion, patriotism and courage. They will now be reaffirmed and serve as your true north, the moral and ethical compass that will guide you through your journey.
Fully embrace your decision, become your best you and the best leader and officer that you can be. Make the most of every opportunity, handle every adversity, lead your soldiers well and care for their families. We are proud of you. We love you and we will always be here for you.
Miguel Howe is a fellow in the military service initiative at the George W. Bush Institute and a retired colonel in the U.S. Army.