I had the pleasure of delivering the keynote address at the North Central College’s / Wheaton College’s ROTC Commissioning Ceremony.
Benjamin Wiley graduated from North Central College in the morning and was commissioned in the afternoon. I had the honor of giving Benjamin his Oath of Office while his younger brother Christian Wiley, was on hand to receive Benjamin’s first salute. Christian is stationed at Fort Bragg, North Carolina and is assigned to the 2/319th Field Artillery.
Of course, as a 35 year veteran of the United States Army and Army Reserve, I am the very proud father of both of these soldiers.
Here is the transcript of the keynote address:
General Curda, COL Kinzler, LTC Kurczak, LTC Larsen, Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, Welcome!
What a big day for our cadets (and soon to be 2LTs) Michael Bartot and Benjamin Wiley.
It is my great honor to be here on the campus of North Central College to join you on behalf of our Commander-in-Chief, President Donald J. Trump, and to pay his respects, and the respects of the American people to the North Central College’s / Wheaton College’s ROTC class of 2018.
I would never have imagined when I joined the Army back in May of 1983 that I would embark on a career that would take me from the Iron Curtain in Central Europe to the DMZ on Korea Pennisula, to every corner of the U.S and throughout the Pacific, to supporting operations in Africa, the Middle East, and Afghanistan… or… that I’d eventually be standing before you here today. The same holds true for our Lieutenants. You graduates cannot possibly anticipate what you will have done or where you’ll be many years from now but it is a good bet it will been every bit as challenging and exciting as the career I’ve enjoyed for over 35-years.
When you were just entering elementary school, our country had been thrust into a war by terrorist who thought that by hurting us…. they could scare us into submission…. well, we don’t scare. In fact we came together as a nation. Nothing represents America’s awesome determination to defend herself better than the actions of the passengers of Flight 93.
The American story is about ordinary people doing extraordinary things when called upon and this is what that looks like. When I first moved to Chicago back in 1988, I had the pleasure of working at the Amdahl Corporation and one of my colleagues was a man named David Beamer. A very talented software specialist, he raised his family in Wheaton, IL. He taught them the love of god, the love of country, and set the example that in life, you must seize the day. From the outside looking in, he and his family was just like everyone of us.
Well on 9/11, it was his son, Todd Beamer, a graduate of Wheaton College, and a passenger on Flight 93, who left us with the iconic phrase “Let’s Roll”. As you may recall, these passengers, armed with only the items found in the galley of a plane, fought back. They attacked the hijackers with the goal or either taking control of the plane or ensuring it never hit its target. It is these American’s we are honored to serve, who with their own footsteps, showed us the way… and whom I know you will not let down.
You could have chosen any number of schools or programs. Attending North Central College and ROTC at Wheaton College Rolling Thunder Battalion are some great options and the decision to serve the country is a great choice, it is your choice.
As we stand here today, world events are unfolding. Next week our President will be negotiating with the North Korean Leader to end the 68-year old Korean War and to get them to discontinue their nuclear ambitions. The Chinese are destabilizing the Pacific Region with massive investments in their military and the creation of literally hundreds of man-made islands with Air Strips and Shore Batteries. The Russian’s are pushing into the Balkans and the Iranian’s are pushing throughout the Middle East. In short, we live in a very dynamic and violent world.
You will now join the ranks of an army at war. You are volunteers and we are very grateful and proud of you. By taking your place in the Army ranks, you are joined in the unbroken line of patriots who have come before you.
Your oath of office connects you to the long line of soldiers stretching back to the founding of our country. It’s about service to your nation, to a set of ideals, and to something greater than yourself.
At the Antietam Battlefield Cemetery, there is a statue of a Union soldier standing at rest and overlooking his comrades’ graves. It is inscribed with the words, “Not for themselves, but for their country.”
How simple a thought. So long as our nation breeds patriots like you, defenders who look past the hot political rhetoric of our day and rally to our flag, that army tradition of serving our country will never die.
For those privileged to wear the uniform and to serve in the United States Army, you stand the ramparts, unapologetic, apolitical, defending our experiment in self-governance…and you hold the line.
You hold the line… faithful to duty…confronting our nation’s foes with an implacable will, knowing that if there’s a hill to climb, waiting will not make it any smaller.
You hold the line… true to honor…living by a moral code regardless of who is watching, knowing that honor is what we give ourselves for a life of meaning.
You hold the line… loyal to country and defending the constitution, defending our fundamental freedoms,
Just like Todd Beamer and the passengers of Flight 93, when destiny taps you on the shoulder and thrusts you into a situation that’s tough beyond words… that is where you will find yourself, that is where you will define yourself.
Know that you are preparing yourself for that moment each and every day:
…when you’re sick and you’ve been without sleep for three days… but you keep going
…when you’re hot or cold to the extreme…. but you keep on going
…when you are hungry or your body ache’s beyond comfort… but you keep on going
…when you’ve lost some of your beloved troops or a colleague, that’s when you’ll be called upon to reach deep inside and find the strength that your country is counting on.
These are not burdens. It is your privilege to be embarking on this journey because that’s… where you will learn things about yourself that others will never know.
I have very high expectations of you…
Your country has very high expectations of you…
You are up to the task.
To the families gathered here today, I can only say – Thank you. Apples don’t fall far from the tree. You have raised these boys into men and now you’re witnessing their transition into soldiers.
Congratulations to the Class of 2018 and God bless America.