by Kevin Shannahan
This past Friday, I had the privilege of being a guest at Northwestern State University’s Army ROTC Commissioning ceremony. NSU joined colleges from across the country as men and women of every race and background “…do solemnly swear that I will defend the constitution of the United States against all enemies foreign and domestic, that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same…” Witnessing a Commissioning ceremony is a sure cure for cynicism and a celebration of America at its best.
The ceremony and oath are short and simple, a rite of passage as old as America that will continue as long as our Nation endures; each generation taking its place in the hard, dangerous-and necessary-work of the defense of our country. The oath is suited to those who would lead an Army protecting a society of free men and women. This isn’t the 1934 Wehrmacht swearing allegiance to Hitler rather than to the German government. The oath is to the Constitution, not to an individual.
Of the thousands of officers commissioned through ROTC, most will serve as reservists; some will go on full time active duty. Others, like General and Secretary of State Colin Powell, will go on to great things from a humble beginning. Most will return to civilian life in a few years, their lives enriched by their service. Located in colleges across the country, ROTC is a huge force for social mobility.
When I stood and saluted during the National Anthem and watched the ceremony, the years melted away. It was once again a fine summer’s day in “…this eighth day of June in the year of our Lord, one thousand nine hundred and eighty-five, and of the Independence of the United States of America, the two-hundred and ninth…” at a small college in Georgia where I was commissioned in the Air Force. The subsequent thirty years have been quite an adventure. I have no idea where my college diploma is, but my commissioning certificate is framed and hanging in my den. Many thanks to the commander for inviting me, and Godspeed Lieutenants Cespedes and Hearne!