We like to put people into molds that make it easy to define who they are. Yet what makes us American is the fact that we are beautifully complicated people. I have learned that we have to be more than one thing if we are to succeed.
Our nation began as one that wanted to avoid international entanglements and sought to create a country based on God-given rights and freedoms. However, then we carved out exceptions, created false justifications, and proceeded to wage wars, celebrate, and then claim the mantle as the land of the free. While still projecting power across the globe.
I have seen firsthand how this shapes who we are. I hail from Southern Illinois from a farm straddling the lines of Mascoutah and Freeburg that my family carved out of the land after immigrating in the 1830s. I grew up working on that farm, going to the community school and then earning an ROTC scholarship that took me to The Citadel, the South Carolina Military College.
I got my first taste of an entirely different culture, how we see others and they see us. I learned how to build lifelong relationships based on standing side by side with your brothers and sisters and face whatever lay before you. I graduated and moved forward in my career as a young Second Lieutenant in the Army Aviation Branch. I saw duty with the 10th Mountain Division, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (Airborne), and 5th Special Forces Group (Airborne). I have been deployed in support of combat operations in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Syria as well as a Joint Combined Exchange Training with the Colombia military.
What America means, what it means to be an American, changes when you see it in action. There are things that we don’t fully understand about the privileges we have and the responsibilities we bear until you are standing in a foreign land charged with bringing or keeping the peace. Finding a way to build common ground, and showing basic kindness where none is expected.
When I came home, I saw that we have forgotten some of that. Our pride is bruised, and we feel like the good times may be more behind us than ahead. This leaves people looking for someone to blame. We mock our own worth, ethics, our communities, our country and are losing faith in our leaders.
I see in my community the damage that has been done by decades of stagnant wage growth. The hollowing out of our towns from lack of opportunities will only become more widespread without a course correction. I have seen the way we have had to cut more and more and pay more and more but yet our roads, our schools, and our jobs just haven’t gotten better.
I was taught that hard work was required to get the job done, that when faced with a problem you assess, make a plan, build your team, and execute. Right now we have leadership that fails in those most basic of tasks.
Now I’m home in Illinois where my family made their roots, where the ground feels good beneath my boots and the air is crisp – and I know that we need to have new leadership if we are going make our needed course correction. We need more responsible leadership in Congress that works with our farmers, our laborers, our churches, and our civic groups. We need a Congress that takes seriously the duty of American power and American responsibility.
From my first days on the farm to serving in the military, and then returning home to my family… I have understood that we must work together to succeed something we are lacking today, but with your help, we will cut a new path to a brighter and better Southern Illinois.