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Remember the Oath

This post comes from Natasha Clarke, an active duty Army Lieutenant Colonel (LTC) currently in her second O5 (LTC) command. She centers her thoughts around the military profession's commitment to the ideals we all swear to. In it she asks us all to ask hard questions, but center ourselves around why we serve.

In my opinion the animosity that continues to build, in an all-volunteer organization like the military, is disappointing… whether intentional or unintentional. Yes, I have had my fair share of disagreements with whom I have served for and with. I have even been called out of my name simply because of the color of my skin. Yet for me, it did not stop me from serving or make me hate anyone in particular... it only made me stronger.

For those that serve, if I asked you right now to reaffirm your oath would you? If I gave you an opportunity to retire with all your benefits, with no strings attached, would you stay in the military and continue to serve or would you retire? Do you still hold those same values of the oath true to your heart as the day you raised your right hand and swore or affirmed to protect and defend our Nation against ALL enemies, whether foreign or domestic? Do the words of the oath still resonate, even if the person standing to your left or right may or may not respect you because of your skin color, religion, sexuality, or gender?

I want to believe that those with whom I serve with are just as committed as I am and that we all share the same common values. From the time I swore my allegiance to the military, I committed myself to support and defend the Constitution of the United States and to obey the orders of the President and those appointed over me. I took this obligation freely. No one twisted my arm… I serve because I believe in the greater good of our military and what we stand for in the eyes of the American people.

It is no secret that in 2020 incidents across America exposed that our nation has more work to do. We all witnessed what many have experienced or have been going through for far too long. Extremism, sexism, police brutalities, and the injustices of racial inequalities are clearly in the public’s eye. Certainly, there was and still is division on American soil.

The incidents that sparked discussion and action across our country infiltrated the military ranks. Service Members and Department of Defense Civilians began to speak out. Some were ridiculed and ostracized, while others created platforms to educate their formations and those within their communities. It pains my heart to sit back and watch as our nation tears one another down publicly and privately. In additionally, we are still fighting a global pandemic as people die each day from complications of COVID.

We are consumed with the latest tabloids or rumors in the media. Each day I turn on the news, I see the same storylines: Asians are being targeted and killed; Hispanic Immigrants are crossing the border with nowhere to go; American people (some who are Veterans) stormed the United States Capital with no regards to humanity or our Constitution; suicides are at an all-time high; and every month it appears as though we are uncovering one scandal after another within our legal system.

In March 2021, Secretary of Defense Austin asked every command to conduct extremism training. He charged the commands to take a hard look at their formations and ensure everyone from the highest ranking General/Flag Officer to the lowest ranking Service Member understood what was going on. He said, to not only conduct “check the block” training, but to explain why the Department of Defense was setting aside time to talk about the event that occurred on January 6, 2021.

Many of the participants could not understand why we were only focusing on the January 6th incident and not ALL the incidents that occurred prior to. Why are we not addressing the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery? Why are we not addressing the killing of the Asians in Atlanta? Why aren’t we doing something about the crisis along the Mexican border?

I asked myself the same questions. Why aren’t we addressing the “elephant in the room”? To me, it was my reality. The marches in 2020 were met with police brutality, riots, hate crimes, and even deaths. Yet, this incident on January 6th caused our military to take a pause and listen. Why now? Why not then?

On 16 April 2021, my Commander officiated a promotion ceremony. Like most promotion ceremonies the Oath of Office or Enlistment is generally rendered. However this time, it was emotionally different for me. The Commander asked the officer to hold the United States Flag with his left hand, raise his right hand, and repeat after him. At that very moment tears begin to form in my eyes. It was then that I understood why. Why we took the time to discuss extremism in our ranks. Why we took the time to listen to those who we work alongside of. It wasn’t about race or institutional bias’; it was about the commitment to something greater than ourselves.

So as they recited the Oath of Office I was reminded of my purpose and why I continue to serve. Therefore, I will offer these final words to anyone that may be feeling the same way I was. Remember when you took the Oath as an officer, enlisted service member, or civil servant and why you decided to join an organization that was bigger than yourself. Do you still believe the words you recited that day? Do the words of the oath still resonate in your spirit? Will you still say yes, when there are those who don’t look like you or share your values say no to you? Will you still say yes when all the odds are against you? Will you still raise your right hand and say yes when you are the only one still standing?

I will continue to say yes… it may be a formality or routine for some, but to me, the Oath of Office means freedom. And not just freedom for those who wear the cloth, but freedom for those who support the men and women of our Armed Forces. Freedom to not only be in the room, but to have a seat at the table. It’s the freedom to practice my religion or love whomever I desire. It is my freedom to speak out and vote. It is the freedom to serve alongside those who may not look like me, but still share the same passion and desire for the greater good of our nation.

Therefore, I Natasha Sunday Clarke, 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 on which I am about to enter. So help me God!

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