I am an officer first

  • Published
  • By Cmdr. Scott Wathen
  • 8th Flying Training Squadron commander
I am an officer first. Have you heard this expression before? Do you understand what it means? You can replace the word officer with petty officer, noncommissioned officer or simply Soldier, Sailor, Airman or Marine. To me, simply put, it means that I put my oath foremost in my decision making process.

I have had many designations or titles throughout my naval career: naval aviator, branch officer, division officer, shooter, department head, executive officer and commanding officer are a few of them.

Each title speaks to a specific job or area of expertise. However, in and of themselves, they are limited in scope. The titles detail job responsibility, but they don't reveal the underlying base that makes each and everyone of us, that choose to wear the uniform, different.

That underlying base which sets us apart is the higher standard we hold ourselves to, and the root of that higher standard is the oath we all took to support and defend the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic.

At the end of the day each of us are here to do our nation's bidding. Great leaders often remind us of that truth. In fact, I have had the opportunity to hear the former Chief of Naval Operations, Adm. Vernon Clark, speak in person on two different occasions and both times he referred to his uniform as the "cloth of the nation."

People join the military for many different reasons. In fact, if you ask 10 different folks why they joined, you are likely to get 10 different answers. Some of the common ones I have heard are: to get money for college, to see the world or to learn a trade.

There is nothing wrong with this at all, but how many times have you heard someone say they joined the military because it was their patriotic duty, or to make a difference -- probably not many. Ask someone why they choose to stay on active duty past their original commitment or past the time they could retire however, and the answers are likely much different.

They have come to realize how critical our military is and how important their role in that effort is. In other words folks may not think of patriotism at all when they first join, but most are true patriots by the time they leave.

Our nation has endured for well over two centuries in large part because of our ability to project power overseas at will. We have always been able to take the fight to the enemy, and that ability is the key to our continued success. Playing the away game also ensures that our families will never have to endure the horrors of war here at home. That alone is reason enough for me to continue to serve.

In a speech given in 1910, President Theodore Roosevelt said: "It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat."

This powerful quote should be posted in every recruiting office in America. No one who has taken the oath need concern themselves with which side of the fence President Roosevelt would place them.

From our brothers in arms that secured our great nation's freedom during the American Revolution, to the Greatest Generation and the unprecedented sacrifices they made to stamp out evil and again ensure our freedoms, to the next great generation of today which is continuing that legacy. We are all squarely in the arena.

There are memories or specific times in our lives each of us will cherish forever. A wedding day, the birth of a child or the first time soloing an aircraft are a few examples. For me that list also includes the day the Navy first let me wear the cloth of our nation.

I am an officer first.