Most military schools, including our nation’s Service Academies, have a mission “to educate, develop, and inspire” young men and women so that they in turn can answer their call to lead.
Little did I know that a quick note from a former Fork Union Military Academy cadet inviting me to his Marine Corps OCS graduation would be so inspiring.
After graduating, Mike was accepted to the University of Virginia, where he played football, and worked extra hard to earn his degree on time. I saw him at a few alumni events over the last 4 years, and know his grandfather well. Just before his college graduation, he asked me for some advice on joining the military.
He allowed me a moment or two to try talking him into joining the Coast Guard, but knowing Mike, he had the heart of a Marineâ€¦or at least that was my sense through observation and conversation. He is bright, physically fit, and driven by excellence. He has a warrior spirit balanced with intelligent humility.
It was a cold November morning when I started my 90 minute drive to Quantico. Having graduated from Coast Guard OCS forty years ago, I thought I knew what to expect. A hundred graduates or so and their families, all excited to see a graduation and commissioningâ€¦which would be mildly boring, but necessary. I was wrong.
Arriving early, there were already long lines of cars and an overwhelming crowd, all there to watch the graduation parade and commissioning ceremony for Officer Candidate Class 229. I sat down a half hour before the parade startedâ€¦and admired the outpouring of obvious joy from family and friends.
Three hundred young men and women marched in to family cheers and rousing music by a Marine Bandâ€¦followed by stirring speeches (given without a note)â€¦including a comment reminding the newest Marines that this accomplishment was not of their own making, but the result of a journey that included may interactions, conversations, and endless support.
I was in a word: Inspired.
What I thought was a nice gesture to support Mike and his family, turned out to be incredibly uplifting. Between the parade and the commissioning ceremony (a 30 minute intermission to change into their dress uniforms) I interacted with Mike’s family and friendsâ€¦and ran into Fork Union Military Academy staff who were there for another FUMA graduate (Stephen) who had served as Battalion Commander in his senior year. He enlisted in the Marine Corps before attending (and graduating from) Christopher Newport University.
Wow! What a day. Watching two former cadets commissioned at the same time.
I was inspired by the willingness of young people to answer America’s challenge.
Award winners were called to the podium, and the schools mentioned were the top universities in our nation.
Standing before us in impeccable uniformity, taking their oath to “support and defend,” was a collection of young people with bright futures and unlimited opportunitiesâ€¦and they chose service in the Armed Forces of the United States.
They chose sacrifice over entitlement.
They chose weeks and months of running through the woods, obstacle courses, physical training, and rigorous classroom challenges over comfort.
As challenging as OCS is, they will now have to prove their worth each day as junior officers, earning the trust and respect of the Marines they will lead as second lieutenants and for whom they will soon be totally responsibleâ€¦while at the same time proving their worth to the officers above.
I was inspired by the willingness, attitudes, and abilities of these young people to choose responsibility and accountability over “letting someone else do the dirty work.”
Someone must protect the rest of us from those who would do us harmâ€¦and it was inspiring to see first-hand 300 young people answer this call.
May hundreds more follow.
We remain in good hands.
All is well.
RADM Scott Burhoe