On the Front Lines

This past Memorial Day weekend, I had the privilege of seeing my nephew and godson graduate from the U S Naval Academy. He was also commissioned a second lieutenant in the Marine Corps.

The reality of “foreign wars” was inescapable; one speaker remarked that within two years of graduation, every single graduate could expect to be deployed outside of the United States.

Not the least of the blessings of the day was the speech by Defense Secretary Robert Gates. The ending of Secretary Gates’ remarks was particularly moving; he made similar comments to troops last weekend. He said,

“As I mentioned earlier, this is my last address to America’s service academies, my last opportunity to engage the future leaders of our military as your defense secretary. As I look out upon you this morning, I am reminded of what so struck and moved me when I went from being a university president to U.S. Secretary of Defense in a time of war. At Texas A&M I would walk the campus, and I would see thousands of students aged 18-25, typically wearing t-shirts and shorts and backpacks. The day after I became Secretary of Defense, in December 2006, I made my first visit to the war theater. And there I encountered other young men and women also 18 to 25. Except they were wearing body armor and carrying assault rifles, putting their lives at risk for all Americans. And I knew that some of them would not make it home whole, and that some would not make it home at all.

“I knew then that soon all those in harm’s way would be there because I sent them. Ever since, I have come to work every day, with a sense of personal responsibility for each and every young American in uniform – as if you were my own sons and daughters. My only prayer is that you serve with honor and come home safely. I personally thank you from the bottom of my heart for your service. Serving and leading you has been the greatest honor of my life.”

Whatever we think of recent American military actions, we may be grateful that those in charge are painfully aware of the sacrifices that they are requiring of our young service personnel. —J. Douglas Ousley


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