231 years ago, a group of Patriots representing a cross-section of state and local politicians, philosophers, small businessmen, and even farmers, created the blueprint for what can truly be called a human experiment. An experiment that had never been tried before in the history of mankind, and one that has changed the course of that history the moment they all affixed their signatures to the document describing it.
Most of the same signatures were also affixed to a document more than a decade earlier that was essentially akin to their death warrant. Though of diverse backgrounds, all members of this small, extraordinary group had two things in common: they were all unapologetic Patriots who loved their young country, and they were all, as a collective, one of the most prescient groups of humans to ever assemble. Lofty words indeed, and a description that has lost its true impact over the last two centuries.
Volumes have been written about the debates and implications of that fateful period during the summer and fall of 1787, to include the personal first-hand accounts of the framers. To put it as plainly as possible, for the first time in history, the concept that each citizen was entitled to the physical and intellectual fruits of their own labor was declared and codified. Truly, this was earth-changing.
Which brings us to the point of this essay. Please allow me an anecdote. The last tour of my military career culminated in an assignment at the Pentagon. Though the dreadful traffic in and around Washington D.C. is legendary, the cultural and historical sites there should be experienced by all Americans as least once in their lives. Located around the corner and one street back from the Smithsonian’s Natural History Museum is the National Archives building.
In the U.S. Constitution on display at the Smithsonian Institute, Washington DC lobby, enshrined behind thick glass and encased in a helium-rich atmosphere sits the Declaration of Independence, the U.S Constitution, and the Bill of Rights. When I first got to the Pentagon, my daughter was about 10 years old.
The first time my wife and I took her on an excursion to see the sites on the National Mall and the Smithsonian Institution museums, I told my daughter there was something we had to see first before we started our sight-seeing day. We climbed the cathedral-like stairs of the Archives building and quietly waited in the hushed reverence of the building’s lobby. When it was our turn, we stood and looked down at the dimly lit original copy of the United States Constitution. In my mind, I had rehearsed many times over what I was going to say to her at this very moment. I leaned over and whispered in her ear.
“I want you to know that I have sworn an oath to protect these words with my life. I didn’t swear to protect our country, or the Flag, or the President, or even you and Mom. I swore to protect this piece of paper and what it means.” Whoah. I’m sure many of you are now thinking that that’s a pretty heavy concept to lay on your 4th grade daughter. But the opposite is true. As a military brat, she understood. I wanted to very clearly convey to her how absolute my conviction was to my oath and to what I believe that document has meant to our family, our country, and as history has proven, the world. I believed that then, and I believe that now.
And that’s the real reason we are here. As members on the U.S. Air Force Academy team, all of us, no matter our positions as Librarians, Research Assistants, IT Technicians, or Service Desk Staff, are mentors to each cadet walking this campus (as a Cadet Sponsor, I include myself as part of that team.) And let me be as direct as I can be: those cadets are being groomed to be Air Force officers with the singular purpose of doing what is required—up to and including sacrificing their lives—to protect the precepts of the United States Constitution.
When these young men and women whom our nation has selected walk into our library, some may see future pilots, navigators, missileers, and every other specialty officer that they will soon become. To me, this is incidental. I see every one of them first and foremost as protectors of the U.S. Constitution. And I see each and every one of you as their guides on this path. I believed that then, and I believe that now.
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