Thoughts on "Support and Defend the Constitution of the United States"

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. William Maher
  • 71st Student Squadron commander
I, (Full Name) having been appointed a (Rank) in the United States Air Force, 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; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office upon which I am about to enter, (Optional): so help me God.

I cover the oath of office with every new class that enters Joint Specialized Undergraduate Pilot Training at Vance. I've addressed more than 20 starting classes now and caught dozens more at track select, and again just before assignment night.

I survey the students and find the most recent commissioned officer. Normally it is an Officer Training School grad that has been commissioned within a couple of weeks of starting JSUPT.

I ask them to remember some of the promises they made when they repeated this oath of office. They normally do pretty well in remembering most of the details. The major item I focus on is the central promise we all have made to " and defend the Constitution of the United States..."

We promised to support and defend the Constitution as officers in our United States Air Force. We didn't say "I promise to support and defend the Constitution in my F-15, or my C-17, or my C-130 etc."

Nowhere in our promise to serve is the type of aircraft we would prefer to fly or even the career field we may eventually end up in, depending on training completion or medical issues that might prevent us from our goal of serving as pilots.

The United States Air Force delivers Global Vigilance, Global Reach and Global Power for our political leadership to meet our national security needs.

We accomplish this through five missions: Air and Space Superiority; Intelligence; Surveillance and Reconnaissance; Rapid Global Mobility; Global Strike; and Command and Control. Each Airman is important in providing these capabilities to our military and political leadership.

Regardless of the airframe in which you begin your career, you should know that it is an important piece of our airpower arsenal. And, even if you end up serving in a career field other than pilot, you are supporting or perhaps directly executing one of these five mission sets that makes and keeps our nation free.

If a collection of words is worth protecting, it is worth reading. It would be both foolish and a challenge to promise to defend a document without reading it. The Constitution is not a cumbersome document. It's probably easier to read than the terms of iTunes you agree to with every software update. 

According to, the U.S. Constitution has 4,400 words. It is the oldest and shortest written Constitution of any major government in the world. It is incredible that such a short text can provide guidance for so many situations that have challenged the governance of our country for nearly 250 years. Thankfully, in my opinion, our founding fathers didn't have computers and email, or the Constitution would surely have exponentially and unnecessarily increased in length.

In the preamble, the Constitution cites a major purpose as to provide "for the common defense" of the states.

As a reminder of this, the 71st Flying Training Wing flies the flag of each state on graduation day.  Some of you will wear our nation's flag on your shoulder in the future.  Remember what each of those stars represents.  We come together and serve from across the country "for the common defense" of these United States of America. It is a great privilege and worthy endeavor.  We serve a much higher purpose than merely enjoying the opportunity to fly.

Why is it important that you read and understand the words in the Constitution?

It is important because we have seen that political leadership will continue to lean on airpower to meet our nation's interests around the world.

State and non-state threats loom on the horizon in both Europe and Asia, and countering the terrorist threat continues as a major focus for our nation.  This is demonstrated with ongoing operations against the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant and the apparent continuation of Al Qaeda sponsored violence against our allies in Europe and Africa. 

Airpower in faraway lands is relatively palatable and very likely a good answer to degrade a terrorist organization overseas.  But, are we comfortable targeting and killing US citizens without a trial, even overseas?  What about when terrorist organizations find root within our borders, shifting the fight from foreign to domestic enemies?  We promised to defend the Constitution against both.  Are we comfortable using military airpower within our own borders to prosecute the attack?  These are difficult questions.  

There is a tension between liberty and security. I certainly don't have all the answers, but I know that many of you will be in the position in the very near future to execute orders received while in the cockpit of your aircraft.  In the not-so-distant future you may also advise your military and political leadership on options to meet our security objectives using the advantages of airpower.

At the "end" of our current and future conflicts, my hope is that we will still be a country proud to be called "America."

Military leaders making decisions grounded in our collective promise to support and defend the Constitution is one safeguard that will help us keep this land secure and great in the future.  You will soon be those leaders.