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NEWS | March 4, 2014

Why Do I Serve?

By Chief Master Sgt. Shawn Hughes 437th Command Chief

I have been asked many, many times throughout my career why I joined the military and/or why I reenlisted. Typically, I make light of the question by answering, "for the fortune and glory."
My response usually gets a little chuckle which lasts just long enough for me to change the subject. So why would I want to change the subject? Maybe because I don't believe why a person has chosen to serve is all that important.

This may sound a little odd, so let me explain. I believe each individual should have their own personal reasons for serving and one reason is no more compelling than any other. So if "why" someone choses to serve isn't all that important to me, then what is? There are three things I believe are relevant.

First and foremost is: the person volunteered. They are the one percent ... only one percent of American citizens have voluntarily served in the military. When a person raises their right hand and recites the oath, they join a phenomenal group of men and women. I see our all-volunteer force in the same light as the citizen soldiers of our Revolutionary War ... men and women who are ready, willing and able to stand up for and defend freedom.

The second thing I care about is that our military men and women give their very best every single day. Every day is a new day and a new opportunity to be a little better than yesterday ... to get right today what I got wrong yesterday, to clearly communicate today what I could not find the words for yesterday, to achieve today what I failed yesterday. If you're not making the best of every day and you are not giving your best every day, then what exactly are you doing? I believe life is a journey, not a particular destination and we only get one spin on the journey of life. I like Mavis Leyrer's end game, "Life's journey is not to arrive at the grave safely, in a well preserved body, but rather to skid in sideways, totally worn out, shouting "What a ride!"

The final thing I believe matters is that each individual who raises their right hand and repeats the oath must have an understanding of the oath they have taken. How can an individual freely volunteer to do anything if they do not understand what they volunteered to do? I am sometimes a little slow on the uptake so it took me several re-enlistments to become truly inculcated. I figured out what the oath of enlistment meant to me when I was able to recite the oath without crib notes.

This is my personal version of the oath of enlistment:

"I, Shawn Michael Hughes (me, myself and I), do solemnly swear (my word is my bond, on my mother's grave, cross my heart hope to die stick a needle in my eye) that I (not my brother or sister, friends, neighbors, associates, acquaintances, or any other persons I pass on the street) will support and defend (stand with, guard, preserve, protect, fight for and if necessary die for) the Constitution of the United States (an "Idea" for a better government of the people, by the people, for the people, fueled by The Declaration of Independence which is hinged on the idea that all men are created equal, that they are endowed with the certain unalienable Rights of Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness, which was won through significant sacrifices and blood of ordinary citizens during extraordinary times) against all enemies, foreign and domestic (I don't care who you are or where you came from, my loyalty lies with the Constitution ... the Idea); that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same (I believe in and am loyal to the Constitution); and that I will obey the orders (direction, guidance) of the President of the United States (the Commander and Chief of the Armed Forces) and the orders of the officers appointed over me (every officer regardless of my personal feelings or opinions), according to regulations (written military operating guidelines and rules, many of the rules and guidelines are a result of damaged equipment, injury, and even death) and the Uniform Code of Military Justice (laws that govern military moral and ethical behaviors necessary for the good order and discipline of a fighting force. Our rules of civility are different from civilian society; what is acceptable in civilian life is not acceptable in the military; we hold ourselves to a higher standard). So help me God."

Why do you serve? I sure hope it's for the fortune and glory! I am just happy you volunteered. I expect you to give your very best and that you understand what you signed up for.