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John F. Kennedy and Memorial Day: Service and Sacrifice in Pursuit of Security and Development
This year Memorial Day also marks the 100th anniversary of President John F. Kennedy’s birth. President Kennedy was a transformational leader who fostered freedom and inspired service, civic responsibility, and personal accountability for America’s citizens. He may be better known for his leadership during the Cuban missile crisis, and for sending men to the moon. But JFK both founded the Peace Corps and legitimized the Army’s Special Forces, commonly known as the Green Berets, as a critical part of our military.
In the case of the Peace Corps, President Kennedy declared that he “wanted to involve Americans more actively in the cause of global democracy, peace, development and freedom.” Over 55 years ago, the Democrat also had the vision to increase the military’s capacity to conduct counter-insurgency and unconventional warfare in response to emerging threats around the globe.
He recognized, as he once put it, “the unique capabilities and value of Special Forces in the struggle against tyrants, despotic insurgency, and oppression.” In doing so, Kennedy ensured the predominance of the Green Berets in his global initiatives for freedom. Kennedy understood that in order to preserve our values, as well as peace and prosperity, security and development go hand in hand.
While he was assassinated before I was born, Kennedy was one of my inspirations to serve my country as a Green Beret. During my 24 years of Army service, I also had the opportunity to serve in one of America’s most prominent international development and assistance organizations – the Millennium Challenge Corporation, founded by President George W. Bush.
Like JFK, President Bush recognized the responsibility of the most powerful nation in the world to those less fortunate. He too understood that freedom is a God-given right of all men and women, and that in addition to security, access to health care, education, and economic opportunity in a secure, stable and just environment across the globe effects the safety and security Americans here at home.
I can personally attest to the necessity of all forms of national service, and our citizen’s personal commitment, and sacrifice to preserving the “four freedoms” articulated by Roosevelt. From Ecuador to Tanzania, Colombia to Kenya, and Iraq to Afghanistan, I have witnessed firsthand that all elements of national power – “hard and soft” - are essential to free the oppressed from tyranny, terrorism, poverty, and lack of education and healthcare.
This Memorial Day I will honor Staff Sergeant Mark R. de Alencar, who on April 8, 2017, in Nangarhar Province, Afghanistan, became our nation’s most recent combat fatality. He is also now the 45th member of my former unit, the 7th Special Forces Group, to be killed while ensuring America’s security, and the stability and development of the Afghan people.
Like those Green Berets before him, he made the ultimate sacrifice that ensures Kennedy’s vision “that the Green Beret is a symbol of excellence, a badge of courage, a mark of distinction in the fight for freedom.” And so this Memorial Day, I also honor the memory, and 100th Birthday, of a President who understood not only that security and development go hand-in-hand, but inspired such commitment, service and sacrifice from our citizens.
Colonel Miguel Howe, USA, Ret. is the inaugural April and Jay Graham Fellow of the Military Service Initiative at the George W. Bush Institute. As an endowed Fellow, Colonel Howe represents the Bush Institute's work to improve the transition of post-9/11 veterans to civilian life, and to foster veteran leadership to enhance our businesses, communities and nation. In this role, he advocates for post 9-11 veterans and builds awareness for the issues that affect their transitions, with a focus on employment, education, and health and wellbeing.
Colonel Howe retired from the United States Army where he served for over 24 years in a myriad of command and staff assignments to include in Iraq and Afghanistan. He deployed in support of Operation Enduring Freedom as the commander of the Afghan National Army Special Operations Advisory Group, Camp Morehead Afghanistan. He also deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom as the Chief of Staff for the NATO Training Mission in Al Rustamiyah, Iraq. A Special Forces Officer, he has commanded special operations forces on numerous deployments throughout Latin America with the 7th Special Forces Group (Airborne). Colonel Howe served as the Special Assistant to the CEO of the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) and commanded the U.S. Army Southern California Recruiting Battalion. He began his Army career in the 25th Infantry Division as a Rifle Platoon Leader.
Colonel Howe was selected in 2006 by President George W. Bush to serve as a White House Fellow. He is a graduate of the United States Military Academy and earned a Master of Arts in National Security Studies from Georgetown University. He is married with two children.Full Bio
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