Valley News -

By Robert Eilek
Special to Valley News 

Long ago lesson is a great reminder


Last updated 9/27/2018 at 7:27pm

With all of the division in the nation and the ongoing controversy surrounding NFL football players taking a knee to protest social injustice, I was reminded of an incident when I was a young airman serving in the U.S. Air Force.

I enlisted as the Vietnam War was nearing an end out of love for my country and the principles upon which it was founded. I proudly raised my right hand and took that solemn oath to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic.”

While stationed at March Air Force Base as a young airman, I had the privilege of serving under some outstanding officers and base commanders. One, in particular, was Col. Stan Brown who passed away in 2016. He taught me an enduring lesson on the true meaning of the military oath.

That lesson began one day when I was out running on base during my off-duty hours. I was proudly wearing my 22nd Combat Support Group T-shirt when I clearly heard “Retreat” being played over the base broadcast system followed by “The Star Spangled Banner.”

The ceremony is firmly rooted in military history and presents the opportunity to show respect for the flag, country and those who have served the nation in uniform past and present. Proper protocol requires that military members not in uniform must turn in the direction of the music, stand at attention and present a salute.

I was aware of the protocol, but I continued running anyway during the ceremony, thinking that no one on base would notice my behavior. How wrong I was. Brown, base commander, saw my act of disrespect, and I was ordered to report to his office the next morning.

Upon entering Brown’s office, I was expecting a harsh lecture and punishment for my misdeed. What I got was a lesson I would never forget. After saluting Brown, he sat me down and asked if I understood the appropriate protocols for reveille, retreat and taps. I told him I did and acknowledged that I made a serious mistake in judgement and that it would never happen again.

He asked me to explain what the military oath meant to me. I remember telling him that I was to defend the Constitution. He asked me to expand on that response, and I remember doing a less than satisfactory job.

Brown proceeded to share what the oath meant to him. He said that the oath meant a lifetime commitment to support and defend the Constitution of the United States and all that it represents. All members of the military family have a sworn duty to protect the freedom and rights of all Americans. He told me that when I failed to respect the “Retreat” ceremony, I was dishonoring the nation and those military members who have served and died fulfilling their solemn oath. After concluding his comments, Brown shook my hand; we saluted, and I left his office a better man.

I have never forgotten the colonel’s lesson. Forty-five years later, I still run at March AFB, although it is just a shell of its former self. The base still broadcasts the “Retreat” ceremony, and Brown’s words continue to ring loud and clear as I turn toward the sound of the music, stand at attention and render a salute to the greatest nation on Earth.


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