The oath of enlistment's meaning

SEYMOUR JOHNSON AIR FORCE BASE, N.C. - -- As I sat in the bleachers watching my son play a game of baseball with the innocence inherent to all children, I found myself lost in thought on recent world events and the resulting deployments of our service members.

I considered the trials and stress associated with permanent-change-of-station moves and frequent temporary duties, and on the positive side I pondered the numerous promotion, reenlistment, award ceremonies and the many other events we attend together that bring us closer as an Air Force family.

This got me thinking about why Soldiers, Sailors, Marines, Coast Guardsmen and Airmen choose to endure the hardships and stressors inherent to a life of military service. Of course, there are many varied reasons behind our eventual decision to enlist or reenlist, but one thing we all share as a result of this decision is our oath of enlistment.

A bit of research on the source and history of our oath of enlistment brought clarity to my thinking, and I'd like to share a brief history lesson on our current oath.

The oath of enlistment began during the Revolutionary War, when the Continental Congress established different oaths for the enlisted men and officers of the Continental Army. The first enlisted Oath of Enlistment was voted on June 14, 1775, and was part of the act creating the Continental Army read as follows:

"I _____ have, this day, voluntarily enlisted myself, as a soldier, in the American continental army, for one year, unless sooner discharged: And I do bind myself to conform, in all instances, to such rules and regulations, as are, or shall be, established for the government of the said Army." Note that from the beginning the oath emphasized volunteerism.

The original wording was effectively replaced by Section 3, Article 1, of the Articles of War and was approved by the Continental Congress on Sept. 20, 1776, which specified that the oath of enlistment read:

"I _____ swear (or affirm as the case may be) to be true to the United States of America, and to serve them honestly and faithfully against all their enemies or opposers whatsoever; and to observe and obey the orders of the Continental Congress, and the orders of the Generals and officers set over me by them."

The first oath under the United States Constitution was approved Sept. 29, 1789. It applied to all commissioned officers, noncommissioned officers and privates in the service of the United States. It came in two parts, the first of which read:

"I, ______, do solemnly swear or affirm (as the case may be) that I will support the constitution of the United States." The second part read: "I, _____, do solemnly swear or affirm (as the case may be) to bear true allegiance to the United States of America, and to serve them honestly and faithfully, against all their enemies or opposers whatsoever, and to observe and obey the orders of the President of the United States of America, and the orders of the officers appointed over me." The next section of that chapter specified that "the said troops shall be governed by the rules and articles of war, which have been established by the United States in Congress assembled, or by such rules and articles of war as may hereafter by law be established."

Finally, a change on May 5, 1960, replaced the wording first adopted in 1789 and an amendment effective Oct. 5, 1962, further changed our oath of enlistment to its current reading:

"I, _____, 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; 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."

Of course, we're all familiar with its current text, and each of us has spoken these simple but powerful words at least once as we assumed a critical role in the defense of our nation. With that utterance came a commitment, a promise both privately held and publicly shared - our personal pledge, if you will - to put the nation's needs ahead of our own in order that we may continue to prosper and remain a strong influence as a leader among the nations of the free world.

This is why we endure the trials of a life of service in the military. This is why we proudly call ourselves Americans. And this is why we endure the hardships - and celebrate the rewards - of an unpredictable and challenging life.

With the crack of a bat and a cheer from the crowd, I find myself back at the ball park, suddenly pulled from my mental wanderings. As I watch the boys, I smile and say a word of thanks for being able to pledge myself to this calling.

I'm proud that I am among those who have solemnly sworn to support and defend...