Veterans Day talk at Marquette University for ROTC

Nov 11, 2017 | Father Blazek SJ

So wonderful to be here.  With the army of the future(cadets), the present(Cadre), and the past (Veterans).

A theme of service.  I took the occasion to interview several veterans, also some current cadets, to ask why they had put on the uniform. Almost universally, “to serve” topped the list amongst their deepest desires.

Retired COL Ed Manning is here today, a graduate of this fine program and one-time commander of a team which was he precursor of the Ranger Challenge team of today. In those days it was called the LITE team, the Light Infantry Tactical Element… that team name was also a lighthearted allusion to the product of a certain company, I can’t say which company, but the product might be brewed in a valley not too far from here.  The product might involve hops.

Ed Manning “- I wanted to give back to my country for all the opportunities America provided to me and my family.  I wanted to serve my country.”

Veterans are patriots, serving the greater good, the nation, the people, even the world.   Cadet Caroline Mitchell, previously of this detachment and now at USMA, recognized this: “I want to serve because I think that it allows me to work towards something greater than myself.”

That’ s a very Catholic value, (Marquette is a Catholic University), serving what we call the “common good.”   Not just our own interests, not just our own families, but those of our neighbors, be they nearby and well-known, or anonymous and more abstract, like our crazy neighbors on the west coast.  Providing stability in African, South American and Central America.

If I might compare the importance of service to a Jesuit theme, this is a Jesuit University, founded by religious priests dedicated to the way of life of another former soldier, Saint Ignatius of Loyola. Who had a spiritual enlightenment after being wounded in an artillery bombardment at the Battle of Pamplona way back in the 16th century.  (Did you know that St Ignatius, if the Purple Heart had existed then, would have been a Purple Heart Veteran.)

In the first vows of a Jesuit, in which we vow poverty, chastity, and obedience. Hmmm, sounds a bit like being in ROTC… or maybe being deployed….

Our vow formula stipulates, “Lord, we know we are unworthy, but we have a deep desire to serve…” “A deep desire to serve.”   And the humility we hope for in a Jesuit mirrors the humility we hope to find in those placed in serious positions of leadership over our great solders and other service members.

Yes, certainly we have pride and confidence and bravado, we have to if we are to lead. But I think all leaders can call to mind a time and a place where they recognized that those we serve with, those we lead, are in many ways more worthy than ourselves.

That realization might come in seeing how they conduct their family lives (a spouse with cancer), or handle a challenging mission (wet cold and tired in the rain) , or how they counsel a service member facing a really tight spot professionally (being pressured by a supervisor to fudge some numbers on a report). Those of us who have served as leaders know we have had subordinates who push us to our own limits of performance. They make us want to excel.

Veterans take an Oath: Veterans are promise-keepers.

Those in uniform make a public declaration, as such a “profession.” These classically are law, clergy, medicine, military.  Professions we are told require specialized knowledge (the use of weapons, leadership, strategic planning), professions have a governing body (the national command authority), a convention for ethics (the army ethos), they are a vocation versus occupation.  Something one does not just for the money, one must recognize that there is some personal risk of injury or death.

Johnny Manning, Ed’s son, recognized this when I talked to him about service. That the risk of personal injury or death was part of serving those living in “small town America” as he called it.  Or even in big-town America maybe, like Cedarburg.

Veterans have values:  In my day we used to talk about the army as “Values based and mission oriented.”  As officers we were to keep in our minds, “Mission first, soldiers always” mentality.”

Now our common values are enshrined in our Constitution in our Declaration of Independence, “self-evident rights”  we are “endowed by our Creator” with “inalienable rights” and we recognize the Bill of Rights.  We value those rights for ourselves and for those we serve.  We hope to share them across the globe, because they are universal.

We must be realistic: life is not all butterflies and rainbows. We must remember those veterans who might be overlooked today. Those who might be homeless, or suffering wounds visible or invisible.  We know they are out there.  Some suffer from drug or alcohol addiction.  Veterans are not superhuman, they are exceptionally human and we must honor not only those who exhibit exemplary traits, but those pushed to the margins by mental illness or physical disability.  We remember those veterans as well today.

I’ll let the words of LTC Steve Broniarczyk (RET), another product of this detachment sum up the last theme I’ll offer here: that of fellowship… the special bond of military service.

“One thing about Veterans is you all share a common path, we all have a basic training experience, we all have a common education experience on your branch of choice, we all serve in the same places. When you a meet a Veteran if you are in an airport or at the counter of a coffee shop or in a bar – you will find something you have in common and able to talk about it as if you served together even if it is years apart.”

Tie it all together:

We serve, we keep our promises, we live by our values, we enjoy the fellowship.   May God bless you everyone.



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