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Commentary | Sept. 6, 2012

The Oath of Enlistment, what does it mean?

By Chief Master Sgt, Joseph Romeo 633rd Mission Support Group

The other day I was reviewing Air Force Instruction 1-1, Air Force Standards, when I came across the Oath of Enlistment.

Immediately I thought to myself, the oath is a major part of who we are in the military.

It forms the bedrock of what we stand for and are willing to fight for. But I wonder if some of us who say those words that form the oath fully embrace what they mean and do we let them guide our military service.

Think about that for a moment.

We often reaffirm the oath during reenlistments for enlisted members and during promotions for enlisted and officers. This is a joyous occasion, either we are continuing our service or maybe receiving our next promotion. I think some view it as a ceremonial gesture. While it is part of the ceremony it is far more than a simple gesture or a formality to get through before the document signing if reenlisting or the refreshments after the ceremony.

I distinctly remember being administered the oath 28 years ago, almost as if it was just yesterday. I was at Fort Jackson, South Carolina going through my preparations to enlist in the U.S. Air Force. I stood in a room with at least 40 or 50 other people, all standing at what we called "attention," facing the front of the room. An officer entered and said he was going to administer the Oath of Enlistment to all of us. At this point, I had never heard the words so I had no idea as to what we were going to say.

We raised our right hands, as he asked us to, and began to recite after him. It seemed as if time stood still, because I mentally paused and reflected on the words I was repeating. I thought to myself this is not a joke - this is real. 

Was I prepared to follow through on this oath?

As soon as he had administered the Oath of Enlistment, I immediately felt a strong sense of patriotism. I felt as if I was invincible. Don't laugh. I'm not sure why, but I was young, I really felt a sense of belonging to something bigger than myself.

After the feelings of patriotism and invincibility passed, a sense of nervousness came over me. As I replayed the words in my head again, I remembered...
will support and defend the constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic and that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same...

I thought, I could very well die. I would be defending the framework and the beliefs of a nation. I would do so against all enemies meaning I might have to fight to save my life, or another's, or our way of life. I might have to do it far removed from the safety of our country - but the country would be safe, or so I thought.

As we all know 9-11 took care of that so-called safety reassurance. To answer my nation's call, I would support the oath I took on foreign lands.

But the oath also stated domestic enemies, so that meant I might have to make a defensive stance in my own country - against my fellow Americans. 

Could I do that, to a fellow American?

After a few moments of reflection, and looking to the Man Upstairs, the answer to all was an emphatic "yes, if I had to."

So now, what about faith and allegiance? I would have faith in my country especially if I fell into enemy hands. I would have faith America would do whatever she could to secure my freedom. I would also maintain my loyalty and duty to her because she is a part of me.

I would and 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 uniformed code of military justice, so help me God.

When I read this part, I wondered if we took the oath freely, why do we have so many breaches in discipline?

Before we ever really do anything in the military, we must accept the oath. So, what I am saying is we should have known what we were getting into. We agreed to follow the orders of those appointed over us. We all have bosses; but, we are all human and make mistakes.

I chose to join the military and part of making that official is the oath - the promise - we make to be a part of this elite group of Americans. We made that oral commitment so all will know what our country means to us and what we will do to defend it, its values, and the right to our way of life.

So, the next time you hear or recite the oath, remember or think of the words and what they truly mean or should mean to you.