As graduation looms in the Patterson School (congrats to grads by the way) and other institutions across the land, a few good men & women will walk that long gray line once again and hear those three hollow words (duty, honor, country) echo from Macarthur’s farewell speech in the halls of WestPoint. In Colorado Springs, the supersonic boom of overhead jets will pound in the hearts of proud parents, but will be an all too familiar reminder of the daily life in the Air Force as the graduates receive their wings. In Annapolis, cadets will use an ungodly amount of bleach detergent to whiten up uniforms, just to throw their pristine hats in the air in one last act of defiance without a demerit consequence. At the Merchant Marine Academy, “Semper Fi” will be repeated from one generation to another. Even the Coast Guard will roll in the Eagle (which has been sailing since 1792 via its 1936 reincarnation) for another visit to New Haven, Connecticut. Graduation, it seems, means time to get to work and this year’s military graduating classes are the first to finish their full four years after September 11th.
With this said, a new wave of fresh officers will enter the military community in the next few weeks to begin a career for Uncle Sam, and in many cases, find themselves in Iraq by summer’s end. The U.S. invests a lot of capital into these young officers, many times over $100,000 per cadet, but the return on investment is priceless for an educated and well learned service. The military academies often receive their fair share of media coverage and well earned respect for producing some of this country’s greatest leaders, regardless of their rank (John McCain finished 5th from last in his class). Yet, in all this pomp and circumstance, the motivations behind those who graduate about why they joined are surprisingly similar no matter where you go: for the opportunity to do something great and to serve their nation.
This motivation that wills those with crazy courage or fearless strength persists around the world: nationalism is still alive. Even in Afghanistan, where U.S. intervention is ongoing, Afghanis are signing up for their country’s armed academy. Earlier this month, 260 cadets entered the National Military Academy of Afghanistan, a school that mimics WestPoint in admission, rigor, and organization (Academy). When asked why they joined, high school seniors replied that the country needs rehabilitation from the younger generation. An autonomous Afghanistan is in the makings in part from its military education, as is the case much the same way in other countries around the world. With this said, as you see Rumsfeld and Bush deliver commencement addresses in the next few weeks at our academies, think about just who else is being matriculated by our and other’s armed services. Whether it be an Iraqi policeman or a new Israeli pilot, know that our military is more than just organized violence, it is also an institution of education that yields non-military social benefits for millions in retirement, the corporate world, and even down to high-school basketball coaches. Sometimes that is just what we need, a taste of the military’s bond and discipline to shape things up in civilian life.