Why am I in the uniform of my country? (1978)

Note: This is the third of three essays I wrote as a teenager that won national awards from the Freedoms Foundation at Valley Forge, Pennsylvania. By this time, I’m a sophomore in college and a cadet in the Army ROTC program at Texas Tech University in Lubbock, Texas. I received a Valley Forge Honor Certificate for this essay. This is probably the most prescient of the three essays because I was concerned at the time about the indifference I saw in American society toward the practice of good citizenship, and I feared the outcome of such apathy. I think what we’re experiencing today is the direct result of the silent majority, overcome by the busyness of life, disengaging from the political arena and giving people who don’t share or appreciate the fundamental values of America the opportunity to take control. It’s not too late to take America back, but it will a long and hard-fought battle. We must not falter or grow weary.

We live in a perilous day and age, one in which the principles that our country was founded on are endangered not by enemies abroad, but by an enemy within. We find that our people are ignoring the ever-present need for us to strive toward the defense of our freedoms. This apathetic attitude permeates the hearts of our people and causes them to take our rights of individuality, initiative and self-sufficiency for granted. I have worn the Air Force blue, the West Point grey, and the Army green for one purpose; to let my fellow countrymen know that I hold my nation’s legacy dear to my soul. and that I will defend it with pride and honor.

The tradition that I follow is rich in courage, trust in God, and love of country. The mournful music of the battlefield, of men crying in mortal agony as the guns boom out their grim symphony, fills my ears whenever I hear the notes of our national anthem. The clumping of frost-bitten, bloody bare feet in the freshly fallen snow of Valley Forge reverberates with every step in cadence that I take. The gaping wounds that shredded the fabric of our country when brother pitted his will and strength against brother are felt whenever I engage in mock combat with my fellow soldier. The sound of the bullet that felled the brilliant man who, “with malice toward none, with charity for all,” sought to “bind up the nation’s wounds,” echoes through the corridors of my mind at the sharp, final report of a 21-gun salute. Then, as the sorrowful sound of Taps floats through my window at day’s end, I think of the eternal peace that is known only by those brave men and women before me, who gave their lives to build a nation in the image of God. I carry a heavy responsibility on my shoulders, but it is one that I bear with dignity.

My faith in America is shaken, however, when I see the lines at our polling places grow smaller and smaller with each passing election day. It scares me to witness the indecisiveness and uncertainty of our leaders in government. Feelings of doubt pass through me when I hear someone say, “I don’t care. It doesn’t make one bit of difference to me.” All of it leaves me frightened, wondering where it is all going to lead us. I sometimes wonder whether or not I can combat the foe that breeds in our own hearts as well as the ones that we face in other lands. We are facing a growing cancer which threatens to deteriorate the progress that we have made in the past two centuries of our existence. We cannot wait for this cancer to disease the lifeblood of this nation. We must face this danger now, with the most powerful resource that we have – the spirit and ingenuity of the American people.

The people of our armed forces devote themselves to the guardianship of our privileges as free men and women. They personify the philosophy of dynamism, the same dynamism which sparked our forefather’s desire to lead free and independent lives and makes it such a blessing to be an American. If my sincere and dedicated service to my country can stir the smallest feelings of pride in the hearts of my brothers and sisters in America, then I have performed my most valorous duty. If I can cause someone to say, “Isn’t it great to be an American?,” then I will have triggered a resounding charge for the cause of liberty.

Why am I in the uniform of my country? Because I am still enthusiastic and optimistic about America and the way of life that she stands for. Apathy never authored our Declaration of Independence, nor freed us from the scourge of British tyranny, nor kept our house united in the face of divisiveness, nor gave us the power to mold a spirited frontier into the greatest, most influential nation in the world. I want to be involved! I want to cry out to the people of America that I still care! It is time that all of us, military and non-military alike, got back to the business of safeguarding the principles that our ancestors died for, those founded on freedom, individual liberty, and the rule of peace. My profession calls for me to lay down my fortunes, and, yes, even my life, for the land that I love. We must all be willing to make sacrifices for the blessing that the Lord has granted us. The fear of physical and mental subservience should provide us with the incentive to repulse it. If my work in our armed forces can start people talking about America again, then I, like those before me, can mold the shape of generations to come.


Ronald E. Miller