I, (NAME), 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.Oath of Enlistment (1960), US Code Title 10, Sect 502
The military oath of enlistment began what might well be my longest relationship. It’s how I identified myself for years. Who am I? I’m a Sailor. My service in the military was less of what I did, and more of who I was. I spent a total of 26 years in a Navy uniform, in stages between 1977 and 2010. I enlisted while in high school and, after graduation, went to bootcamp in San Diego. I traveled the world and eventually ended up back in San Diego which is, apparently, where God wanted me.
support and defend
The first half of my military career, which encompassed the first twenty years of my adulthood, were spent fighting for recognition, and getting frustrated when I didn’t seem to get any. I had many brushes with greatness that never seemed to pan out: a Congressional nomination to the Naval Academy in the last year of my first enlistment but had some medical issues that disqualified me. Ten years later, enlisting after a break in service, I initially qualified for enrollment to the Defense Intelligence College but they never enrolled a junior enlisted man before. And nearly ten years later, I was THIRD FLEET Sailor Of the Year (SOY) (1997) but I didn’t make the Selection Board for Chief.
Looking back at those days, I was working overtime on me, for me, and making it about me. Selfish, self-centered, and trying to compensate for growing up in a dysfunctional family. I poured myself into working hard and being a people-pleaser. I was becoming a very negative person, with my personal life full of problems. I lost touch with my family. I rushed into a marriage that quickly ended in divorce. Spending money foolishly, I was bored, very unhappy and very lonely.
true faith and allegiance
Over the years, people had been inviting me to church and I kept saying no, or saying yes, but then not going. But things changed in 1997. I was invited to church by not only one of the guys on my ship, but also from a couple of singles on a date at a coffee house. Within a few months I studied the Bible and was baptized at an afternoon devotional service for church members across the San Diego region, much to the surprise of my shipmate. The day I got baptized, he came up to say, “What do you think I’ve been inviting you to all this time!”
Suddenly, life had more meaning. It wasn’t just about me anymore. It was about finding a gratitude for what I’d been given. God surrounded me with great examples of Godly men to help me live for something besides just myself. I was able to connect to the gift of Jesus’ sacrifice and realize how much more there was to life, when I was able to look beyond myself.
My career in the Navy took off and I was picked up for Chief and then Senior Chief. I was a better leader because of being a disciple of Jesus. I listened to, and applied, the advice of Godly men, of military mentors, and friends who told me the truth. I was able to meet the needs of my unit because I could actually see the needs of my unit, not just my own needs. Jesus gave the ultimate example of giving it all for others. The gratitude that I felt for that gift made it easier to give of myself to those around me that needed help. It continues to motivate me to this day.
Life changed dramatically after I was baptized. The woman from that coffee house date who shared Jesus with me became my wife. I took on three unruly preteen boys, a task I never would have been up to without God. I completed my Navy career in 2010. And I recently left my civilian job to work alongside my wife.
Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we[a] have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God.Romans 5: 1 -2 (NIV)
This scripture in ROMANS, speaks to me as a veteran as I do not have to live for recognition, but model Jesus for others. It’s the same basic system as the military, in modeling servant-leadership to others and helping them rise to their potential. As a disciple of Jesus, it is helping others to become better service members, employees, better husbands, wives, fathers, mothers or children, and better people by being more like the example of JESUS.
so help me God
Being a Veteran is still a large part of who I am. I’m proud of my military service and everything I learned in the Navy. I’m grateful, however, that God found me while I was still in the service. The military gave me opportunity. Jesus gave me the example of selfless service. God gave me the gift of bringing both of those things together to enable me to have a great second half of my military career.
Click here to watch/listen to veterans of the Gulf War, combat in Afghanistan and Iraq, and a military spouse share about challenges during deployment and offer encouragement during our Veterans Day service. Ed. note: there was some recording noise that periodically interferes with the YouTube video quality.