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A Unifying Foundation: Military Community and the Oath of Office

by Tom Dull

The military community stands apart from others due to its emphasis on inclusion and acceptance. 

While small in population, the military community is highly efficient and effective in operation; its ability to find common ground to accomplish a mission is impressive. Steeped in service and practice, our military community does not tolerate wrong and performs right on behalf of our nation. What separates the military community from other organizations and establishments are the people that form the community and specifically the assurance these people individually dedicate themselves to by giving their word through their oath of office.

Uniquely scribed, short, and concise, the oath is the passage into the military community as well as the unifying action that ties the community together. The oath forms the community’s distinct cohesion. In a time where division in our country is growing amongst society and politicians, the military community falls back on the oath of office; it serves as the fundamental reason for the community’s unity and structure and a haven for those who enter.

There are three key values that are integrated into the American military Oath of Office. These values form a purpose and resolution that all service members can recall and pursue for interconnection, acceptance, and solidarity.

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;”

Courage. The introductory statement that a service member recites solidifies the promise he or she makes to the nation as a member of the military community. Directed on the defense and support of our nation’s basic beliefs and ideas (detailed in the U.S. Constitution), this opening declaration confirms the military community’s physical and moral courage to those concepts and principles. The community has a firm belief in the justice of the cause – the idea of the United States of America. The statement establishes the mindset of the service member and affirms that there is no bystander in this community. The community pursues fearlessly righteous acting, fighting, and winning regardless of the environment. 

“that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion;”

Honor. Weaved into the oath is the idea of carrying out military values selflessly and without remorse. While in the military community, the service member accepts this mantra as a way of life and expects their teammates to do the same. 

As men and women of honor, It defines them – they pay close attention to honorable living and steward this way of living and fighting on behalf of the cause. 

In 2003, General James Mattis conveyed the idea of honor clearly to his 1st Marine Division as he prepared them for combat operations in Iraq when he wrote to “never lose your nerve and to keep their honor clean.” 

It matters.

“and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter.”

Integrity. With firm truth and accuracy, the members of the military community take action on their commitment to the idea of a United States of America. As General Hal Moore once stated, in “whatever they do, they do to the best of their abilities.” This tenet interlaces the heart and soul of the military community; a resolution to serve in the community with virtue and to not give up.

As leaders in the military community look to build and unite their culture, they should recall the oath of office that all members take and find that the common ground is our shared courage, honor, and integrity.  

LTC Tom Dull is an Infantry Officer in the United States Army and currently the Executive Officer for the Simon Center for the Professional Military Ethic at West Point. Additionally, he serves as an instructor for Officership at the United States Military Academy. He was commissioned through the United States Officer Candidate School and holds two Master’s Degrees.