true faith and allegiance

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.

Navy, San Diego, RTC, recruit
Seaman Recruit, RTC San Diego, 1977

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.  

Senior Chief and family, USN Retired

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.

Armistice Day, 11 November

In many countries,  the eleventh of November is remembered as Veterans’ Day, the day honoring military veterans of all conflicts. However, many hold it as a day of remembrance and not a public holiday.  A century ago, this was the day the Allies and Germany signed the armistice ending World War I.  The Armistice went into effect during the 11th hour, of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918.  The Treaty of Versailles signed in 1919 formally ended hostilities.  

What do you hold as the most valuable “thing” in your life?  More to the point, what is worth risking the exchange of your life or health:  Ideas?  Reputation?  Property?  Human rights and dignity?  The lives of your loved ones?   Man has been fighting and dying for millennia over territory, religion, and to fight for, or to prevent someone else’s desire for power and conquest. In the last century, the world went to war to prevent genocide, to oppose totalitarian rule, and to secure ‘life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness’ – ideals enshrined in America.   When a continent is plunged into war as Europe was, in 1914, by the war machine of the Kaiser,  or in 1939, when Hitler’s Germany annexed its neighbors and started to systematically enslave and exterminate people,  alliances called up armies.   For the last eighteen years, the premeditated attack upon civilians against the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and the fear generated by using commercial aircraft and hostage passengers as weapons motivated several nations to rise against them.  Sadly, military men and women, ours and the nationals being trained still bleed and die in ‘suicide bombings’ by agents secreted among them in Afghanistan and elsewhere.  For a century and more, the attack upon civilians, whether the sinking of passenger liners by Germany in the First War, or civilian and military targets at Pearl Harbor in 1941 or on 9/11 propelled our nation to defend our citizens and the right to freely travel and trade abroad.

On Veterans’ Day, we remember those who sacrificed their future for ours.   Many of those who recognize and remember loved ones particularly on this day have stories to tell.   And as far as I have learned about my forebears, in almost every generation I have so far traced,  a young man – or in the last half-century, woman relative – has served as a soldier, sailor, or marine.  A hundred and some years ago,  the War to End all Wars,  World War I, was raging in Europe.  And one of my distant relatives,  a young man in his late teens, gave his life in a bloody battlefield in Belgium.

Edwin Blow Kertland,  was the nephew of his namesake, one of the Blow family in what is now Northern Ireland. The Blow family whom I trace one branch of my maternal ancestry, for nearly three hundred years had been merchants and businessmen.  In Britain, for hundreds of years, the gentry passed property down from eldest son to eldest son. The younger sons were apprenticed to learn a trade and make their fortunes, some went into ministry, and others into the army or went to sea as crewmen on merchant ships.

Edwin Kertland went into military school and earned a commission in the second decade of the Twentieth Century.  An assassination and political alliances plunged the world into war the resulting scale of carnage – in toll of lives – still sets a painful bar.  Nearly seventeen million people,  ten million military and seven million civilians died, and another twenty million were gravely injured as a result of the conflict.  The war pitted men serving the Kaiser and their allies against other Europeans, the British Empire and Americans. Poison gas, mechanized artillery (tanks), aerial bombardment (aircraft), trench warfare, and other weapons technology changed the efficacy with which men can harm each other.  Along with millions of youthful Britons, Frenchmen.  Americans, Russians, Germans and their allies, the horror of war killed him.  He was nineteen.

To the cynic there is no solution to the periodic hatreds that flare between people, and prudently,  they prepare, train, and arm themselves to protect home and homeland.  And there will be those who are willing to put on the uniform of their nation to defend against tyranny, or more personally, to defend their comrades fighting alongside them in the trenches.