We like to put people into roles that make it easy to define who they are – but if anything is American, it is the fact that we are a beautifully complicated people. I have learned that we have to be more than any one thing if we are to succeed.
We began as a nation that wanted to avoid international entanglements, that sought to create a country based on God given Rights and Freedoms – but then we carved out exceptions, created justifications, and have proceeded to fight, be dragged, celebrate, and then claim the mantle as the Land of the Free but also the most powerful Nation in the world with the ability to project 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 us. I would graduate and move forward to my career as a young Second Lieutenant in the Army Aviation Branch.
From there it was flight school and qualifying on Chinook Helicopters. 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 (exercise) 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. We are looking for who to blame. We mock our own worth ethics, our communities, our country and we have lost faith in our leaders.
I see the damage that has been done by wage growth that has been stagnant for decades. I can see the overgrown remnants of thousands of working class jobs that we built our homes and our neighborhoods with, but are gone now and we don’t know if our kids will have that opportunity. 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 economies 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 basic mission rules.
I have come home to where my family made their American roots, to where the ground feels good beneath my boots and the air is familiar – and I know that we need to have new leadership if we are going to make sure that we are both true to our roots and have a firm footing to dig our feet into and the direction to drive towards. We need real responsible leadership in Congress that works with our farmers, our laborers, our neighborhoods, 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 and we must be ready to lead.