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May We Commit to More This Patriot Day

Colonel Miguel Howe, the April and Jay Graham Fellow of the Military Service Initiative at the George W. Bush Institute, calls us all to higher service 17 years after September 11, 2001.

Article by Colonel Miguel Howe, USA (Ret.) September 11, 2018 //   5 minute read

Today, Patriot Day, thousands of American’s will gather to remember, reflect and volunteer as a way to honor those who perished in the September 11, 2001 attacks on America. We will attend vigils, ceremonies, and conduct community service projects. It is absolutely fitting that we do so.

But this Patriot Day, we must commit to more. We must remember those felled by the attacks of 9/11, and those lost in the intervening 17 years, but we must also elevate the example of those who serve in military uniform. We must commit to hold our national leaders accountable to the same standard of character, service, leadership, and sacrifice as our troops.

Last week on his seventh combat deployment, Army Command Sergeant Major Timothy Bolyard became the most recent service member to lay down his life in Afghanistan. He made the ultimate sacrifice serving a cause greater than himself. Because of his sacrifice, and that of all of those who have served, and continue to serve, the wolf has not again returned to our doorstep. While many will argue the efficacy of these wars, the threat of terrorism is real, but like a cancer, it has been contained and held in remission by those who serve and sacrifice.

In serving a cause greater than themselves, our military put aside their differences and fight as one. The urgency of war ensures they are laser-focused on practical and pragmatic solutions that get the job done. They live by a code of values that places a premium on honor, character, respect, and service. They balance awesome strength and power with compassion and understanding for the people in the places they fight. They hold themselves and each other accountable for their character, words, and deeds.

Our national leaders could learn much from them.

True character is revealed in adversity, and the character revealed in our national leaders in today’s era of politics is deeply troubling. Their crisis in character is dividing our nation, and weakens us in a way no direct physical attack has ever been able to do. This is exactly what our enemies seek.

What will happen when that character is tested, and it will be, by real crisis? Those leaders will not only influence the fate of the nation, but those that serve.

Like me, my father and father-in-law, and my grandfather before him, my nephew is at Ft. Benning awaiting Ranger school and his turn to deploy. My son, too, is in training to become an officer. They took the same oath to protect and defend the constitution of the United States, and are also prepared to make the ultimate sacrifice.

I am humbled and honored by their commitment, but I am deeply troubled by the words and deeds of those who will make the decisions that will influence their fate. As a father, uncle, veteran, and citizen, I want to know such a sacrifice would be made serving a nation stewarded by national servant leaders of character. We need our national leaders focused on real threats, and preparing us the economic, diplomatic, technological, environmental and security challenges of tomorrow.

While only 1% of Americans will serve in uniform, all citizens have a duty to be informed and engaged citizens. All citizen must hold our national leaders accountable for inappropriate behavior, irrational decisions and flaws in character. We must hold all leaders, of all parties, accountable for their words and deeds.

In the adversity of those terrible attacks of 17 years ago we came together as a nation in manner not seen in my lifetime. For the sake of our Republic, we must do so again. And we must do so around the principles of character, service, and leadership. And we must hold our national leaders to the same standards embodied by those who have answered the call to preserve our security, prosperity, and the sustained health of our democracy.

That is how as Americans, after our remembrances, ceremonies and service projects we can leverage the legacy of Patriot Day.

This essay also appears in today’s Dallas Morning News.