Dear President Trump,
This is my third in a series of letters that I have written to public officials in as many days. The first was expressing my outrage at President Obama for commuting the sentence of Chelsea Manning. The second explained my frustration with the Democratic congressional representatives for not fulfilling their oath to support and defend the Constitution, part of which is acting as the representatives of the people at the inauguration.
I was going to let it stop there.
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After those two actions, I felt as though I had lost faith in my government. I am a retired Army combat veteran, and the exploits of my government over the past couple weeks left me feeling as if it had all simply shut down on what I hold dearest. So many veterans have fought and suffered so that this country and Constitution could survive, and it was beginning to appear as though no one in the government felt any passion in that sacrifice anymore.
I felt in you a passion that America needs to stand for greatness, and that it has a destiny to lead the world in justice and righteousness.
That was until I heard your inauguration speech. I must admit that I did not find it particularly elegant. It was definitely not poetic or particularly flowing. What it was, however, was the most powerfully spoken address on American strength and exceptionalism that I have heard in quite some time.
Over 75 percent of my career was spent during a period of active conflict. I myself have three combat deployments under my belt. Unfortunately, I spent most of my career feeling there was little support from my government — and most importantly, my president — in supporting my commitment to our founding documents. I essentially served under three presidents, and with two of them, I felt a sincere depth of disdain toward the service in general. It appeared the military was to be used as an experiment for social justices, which put military lives at risk because it took us away from what the purpose of our mission was — to deter war through projection of power (and should that show of force fail, to win through overwhelming strength of arms).
Not pretty or happy, but that is what we in the military are there to do. And the better we are at doing our jobs, the more lives we save, both in terms of our lives and the lives of the enemies.
You, sir, filled me with a sense of patriotism that I have not felt for quite some time. In fact, it has been missing since we, the American people, seemingly forgot the awful and life-altering attack carried out on our country on Sept. 11, 2001. I will never forget it. I was a lieutenant at Fort Bragg, and we were conducting a field training exercise. My battery commander had just come over and ripped me up and down (something that happened quite regularly, as I was the guy who always took as much rope as I could get and wrapped it around the fence post personally to adequately hang myself) for shooting over half our allotted artillery rounds in two fire missions.
It was about two hours later that he called over his officers and senior NCOs and explained to us that the United States had just come under attack by Islamic terrorists, and the Twin Towers had been destroyed. That was the same day I saw my 1SG, one of the hardest men I have ever met, crying in a corner because his brother had been one of those murdered by those cowards (cowards always kill themselves so they can escape the consequences of their actions).
I spent the next few years waiting to deploy so I could do my part in what would soon become a global conflict. I also spent the next 15 years watching as my country seemed to forget what had happened to it and what America stood for. Even worse was watching as our government led by way of self-degradation for what we as a nation have accomplished throughout our miraculous history. I realized this self-loathing had come full circle when one of my children came back from college and explained how America has never really been extraordinary.
So this is where I found myself on Jan. 20, 2017. As I watched the inauguration I once again wondered what the legacy was that we were leaving to our posterity. Debt, hostility, lack of integrity, crime — and this was just from our government officials. Then, I listened to the oath of office that you, the president, took. I was told once as a young lieutenant from (then) MAJ Killgallon — one of the most inspiring leaders I had the honor to call mentor — that administering the oath of office to someone was the most sacred of events. We, the ones swearing them in, were being invited into an event that was solely about that individual, and they were offering to share that spot with you. The most disrespectful thing you could do was not have that oath memorized.
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Ever since then, I have been fascinated by the oaths of office. The one for the president moved me. You don’t swear to protect it against all enemies foreign and domestic, nor do you swear to bear true faith and allegiance. You simply swear that you will “to the best of my ability, preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States.”
That is because, as of that moment, you are the physical embodiment of that document. You are the corporeal manifestation of all that the Constitution means and represents.
In listening to your address after your oath, I felt that you understood that. I heard in you a belief in America that I honestly haven’t felt since listening to Ronald Reagan. I felt in you a passion that America needs to stand for greatness, and that it has a destiny to lead the world in justice and righteousness. You also made it clear, however, that this was not possible if we the people did not first make our country accountable to us again.
So, in total dichotomy, after listening to your speech on Jan. 20, 2017, I was filled with a true sense of remorse. I am almost 45 years old. I have lived a very good life — a life filled with both overwhelming joy and total, gut-wrenching heartbreak. Yet the combination of these events has made me into the person I am today, and I had, up until now, no regrets. So why, if I felt all of this from your speech, should I feel such lament?
As the president, the faith of the military is placed upon your shoulders. We go where you tell us, and should the need arise, sacrifice our lives to accomplish the mission that you place upon us. We need to believe that in doing so, we are fighting, killing, and dying for a purpose and a meaning.
Nothing angered me more than when in Somalia, after losing 18 Rangers, we pulled the plug and came back to America. To me, it signified that our mission there was not essential. If you deploy us, you are saying that the objective is so important that there can be no value of life placed above it. We are engaging in an action that, at its core, is more important than the life of every service member within the U.S. military. If you pull us out before that mission is done, then every life given to you, the president, was lost in vain. We who take our oaths are willing to die for our values; we ask that these deaths, however, be given for the worthy cause of supporting our Constitution.
You hold the lives of every soldier, Marine, airman, sailor, and coast guardsman in your hand.
In your speech, I heard that belief — a belief in a purpose in America. A belief in the virtue of our Constitution. My regret, sir, is that I will not be able to serve again as a member of the armed forces under a commander who gives us cause to believe in our mission. General Mattis stated in his confirmation hearing: “The primitive and often even atavistic aspects of the battlefield test the physical and mental agility of everyone, but most of what it tests is the courage and the spiritual side of the troops we put in harm’s way. And oftentimes it’s only unit cohesion, leadership, and the belief in themselves and their comrades that allows them to go through what they have to go through and come home as better men and women, not as broken. And so the Warrior Ethos is not a luxury, it is essential when you have a military.”
There can be no doubt this is a man who is worthy to lead our military. He understands the principles of combat and how to train and lead our military.
What the military needs is a president who will follow along with that example. Allow us to train hard and train to win. Use us judiciously, and only when the purpose is to either defend our ideals or reach out to the worthy. Most importantly, we need you to have faith and stand by the conviction that our mission is worthy of the ultimate sacrifice.
I don’t know if you will hold true to your words that you issued during your inauguration. I don’t know if your actions will be worthy of the office you just entered. What I do know is that I see in you the potential to take us back to a place of greatness.
I, sir, believe in you. I regret I will not be able to serve under your command. If there is any word of advice that I can offer, it would be this: You hold the lives of every soldier, Marine, airman, sailor, and coast guardsman in your hand.
Likewise, you will hold their deaths on your conscience. Let those lives sacrificed truly mean something. I hope you will.
God bless you, God bless our military, and God bless America.
Matthew Wadler is a U.S. Army veteran and a senior OpsLens contributor. He served in the Army for 20 years as both enlisted and officer before retiring; his service includes time as military police, field artillery, adjutant general, and recruiting. His deployments include Somalia and two tours to Afghanistan. He holds a master’s degree in HR Management, and is a strong supporter of the Constitution and an advocate for the military and veteran communities. This article originally appeared in OpsLens and is used by permission.