Alexander's Column

Honoring Second Lieutenants — A Travelogue

The USAFA Class of 2016

I traveled to the Air Force Academy to celebrate the graduation of the Class of 2016.

Mark Alexander · Jun. 8, 2016

“Honor, justice, and humanity, forbid us tamely to surrender that freedom which we received from our gallant ancestors, and which our innocent posterity have a right to receive from us.” —Thomas Jefferson (1775)

Last week, my family and I traveled to the Air Force Academy to celebrate the graduation of the Class of 2016 and the cross-commissioning of two young men from that class into the Marine Corps. Our son was one of those Marines, and this trip marked our first to a college graduation of one of our own children.

There were some notable highlights (and a couple of lowlifes) along the way, so, to capture the experience, I’m composing this column as something of a travelogue.

The trip was bookended by roundtrip flights — at least that’s how the rest of my family traveled from Chattanooga to Colorado Springs and back. However, in order to retrieve the “two large footlockers and three sea bags” my son indicated would be packed and ready for return to Tennessee, I drove the 1,400-mile stretch in my Ram 3500.

Now, I mention my son’s cargo and the size of my vehicle by way of noting that when I returned last Friday, the bed, the back seat and the front seat of my truck — with the exception of a hole large enough to see my right rearview mirror — was packed floor to ceiling. Apparently, “loadmaster” is not his calling.

It was an easy two-day trip each way, mostly on secondary routes in order to see more of the countryside and visit fellow Patriots along the way.

On day two outbound, I stopped to visit friends who have a ranch at the base of the Spanish Peaks. For the record, at my age I’ve learned to appreciate the concentration of oxygen at 2,200 feet at our homestead in East Tennessee. I don’t adjust to the thin air at almost 9,500 as fast as I once did. However, I finally made the adjustment about a day before returning east.

Notably, on the road I always see Patriot Post stickers on passing vehicles — including an F-350 wrapped with Patriot images.

On Tuesday, the first of three highlights was attending a graduate awards ceremony followed by degree program awards. My son had served as Cadet Wing Commander and had a double major and double minor, so we made a lot of stops that morning. Next up was a ceremony with the USAFA Officers' Christian Fellowship group and meeting my son’s peers and mentors. I’m deeply heartened by and profoundly grateful for OCF and this group of young faithful Patriots! That night, a friend hosted our family and guests for a fine dinner at the Broadmoor Tavern, an old facility by Colorado standards, at the base of Cheyenne Mountain bunker.

Wednesday morning was the graduation parade in advance of Thursday’s ceremony. This was the last for the Firsties, who, after forming up on the field, marched out of their squadron ranks and turned to face the formation of the second, third and fourth class cadets. The keynote speaker for this event was Air Force Chief Gen. Mark Welsh, who has been an outstanding USAFA leader. Gen. Welsh retires this month, so this was the last class of his alma mater he addressed as Chief.

To gain a sense of Gen. Welsh’s character and leadership, watch his address to USAFA cadets a few years ago. It was this address that influenced my son’s decision to attend the Air Force Academy instead of the Naval Academy, where he had also been admitted. (However, he did spend a semester at USNA as an exchange student from USAFA.)

A highlight for me that day was meeting up with my Patriot friend Mike “Smack” McGinn, a former Marine aviator I profiled back in 2009. That column, “Marine Aviator’s Memorial Day Waveoff,” was about Mike’s denial of entry to Arlington Cemetery for his annual Memorial Day visit to the gravesite of his decorated Marine aviator father, James McGinn. For the first time since his father’s death, Mike was denied access to National Cemetery because all ingress and egress was halted for the grand entrance of one Barack Hussein Obama. Mike noted that in the five previous years he visited his father’s gravesite when President George W. Bush was CINC, this had never happened.

After my son chose to attend USAFA, Mike sent him a cadet sword, which had been presented to his father in 1968 when James McGinn was the lone Marine AOC at the Air Force Academy. It was presented by then-USAFA Cadet Lt. Col. Craig Baer, commander of Squadron 25. Mike looked up Craig, and 48 years later, after the graduation parade, Craig (now a research scientist) and Mike reconvened and officially re-presented that sword to my son.

Thursday, graduation day, was a day of high anticipation for us, as it is for any parent celebrating a graduation. The day started early, given the requirement that all parents and guests had to get through the Secret Service screening required of all who expect to breathe the same air as this day’s keynote speaker. Sadly, some parents didn’t make it into the stadium to see their cadet graduate because of the security delays.

Military graduation ceremonies are “by the numbers” and thrilling for all present — except that the start time of this one was delayed 30 minutes because the keynote speaker was (SHOCKER!) running late.

The ceremony was a case study in contrasts: On the one hand, a field full of young men and women prepared to serve our great nation and a stage with many who have spent their career serving honorably; and on the other hand, a podium featuring two “dignitaries” — one a wholly unqualified Air Force secretary and the other a commander in chief who has done more damage to our nation than any president in the last century.

Now, mind you, while those graduates on the field, including my son, exhibit due honor and respect to the office of president regardless of its occupant, I am neither in the president’s nor the secretary’s chain of command and am therefore free to offer my candid observations.

For her part, Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James was the opener for Obama, and her remarks sounded more like those of the warm-up act for a Democrat re-election campaign than anything honoring our Air Force’s newest 2nd lieutenants.

James reminded the graduates, “We’re so honored today to be joined by our commander in chief, President Barack Obama.” That was but the first instance of a highly decorated retired Marine GySgt sitting behind us and muttering, “B-ll Sh-t.”

She then reminded everyone in the stadium what a fine job BO had done improving the VA because “the president and first lady believe that all who serve should receive top-notch benefits and world-class care.” Heard from that Marine Gunny again…

“And as you graduate, I charge all of you to follow the president’s lead,” said James. (Presumably, she didn’t mean to “follow the president’s lead” by avoiding military service.) Digging an ever deeper and more disgraceful hole, James said, “President Obama launched his strategy to degrade and ultimately destroy ISIL.”

Now, for the record, if Obama hadn’t withdrawn from Iraq while claiming “victory” as a key element of his 2012 re-election charade, thus leaving an enormous power vacuum in the Middle East, nobody would’ve ever heard of “ISIL,” the rise of the Islamic State or the ensuing humanitarian crisis. Thanks to Obama, ISIL is now the most dangerous threat on the planet.

“So as you graduate, I charge you to follow the president’s lead, to become experts in your mission. … One year ago, as you entered your senior year and started counting down the days to graduation, President Obama was guiding America to the stark agreement with Iran … [blocking] Iran’s path to a nuclear weapon, which ultimately is going to create a more stable world.”

Seriously, she said with a straight face that BO’s greatest foreign policy achievement, as he insists, was the deal with Iran. In doing so, she rendered meaningless all satire from that moment forward.

Suffice it to say that Obama and his heir-apparent, Hillary Clinton, have set the standard for abject foreign policy failures.

Again, James said, “I charge you to follow the president’s lead. … Putting millions of people in this country back to work, and championing same-sex marriage, the president has led with strength and conviction.” I’ll leave it to your imagination as to what our Marine Gunny said in response to that assertion.

May I inject here that my charge to USAFA graduates would be to follow your CINC’s lawful orders, but never “follow Obama’s lead.” He has never defended our nation with anything more than a glass of Chardonnay.

So, next up was BO, who, predictably, droned on endlessly about his magnificence. He attempted a bit of levity, saying what a good job our airmen had done taking care of him on Air Force One: “You are always on time. You never lose my luggage. I don’t have to take off my shoes before I get on.”

Ah yes, Air Force One.

Recall if you will that the Obamas have lived the life of the rich and famous, jetting off to exotic resorts at taxpayer expense — doing so even during sequestered military cutbacks. At the same time the Obamas were tying up Air Force One for their lavish family trips, Gen. Welsh noted that his sequester had grounded 33 squadrons, and many pilots are losing their proficiency. “If we were ordered to go [to Syria], we’d go,” but we would be “accepting the risk of those people not being as current. For me, that’s a risk we don’t want to be accepting.”

Oh, and while I was advocating sequestering funds for Air Force One, BO also grounded all honor flights for veteran interments at National Cemetery, where this week he has ordered lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender support posters displayed for June, which he has proclaimed “LBGT Pride Month.”

Of course, at the graduation podium, BO reiterated the importance of normalization of “gays and lesbians” into our society. Likewise for Muslims, et al.

Let me just cut to the chase and get to the only thing BO said that was widely applauded — including my applause: “Today will be the last time that I have the honor of addressing a graduating class of military officers.”

Moving on to the best part of Thursday for two families of graduating Air Force cadets — the Marine cross-commissioning ceremony for my son and another cadet, both of whom graduated Marine OCS last summer and have earned their eagle-globe-and-anchor insignias.

A couple things I would note about that ceremony.

First, the Air Force brass, from the Superintendent to the Commandant, were among the small group of attendees at the Marine commissioning, and it was an honor to have them present. They have all demonstrated great leadership at USAFA.

Second, I was humbled by the opportunity to offer the invocation and some remarks at the ceremony, among them this anecdote about George Washington:

In 1783 at the conclusion of the American Revolution, Patriot Ethan Allen’s first wife had died, and in 1784 he married Frances Buchanan. She hailed from an ignoble and notorious family of British loyalists. On one of Ethan Allen’s visits to her New York family shortly after their marriage, her siblings, still seething from the defeat of their British masters, hung a large portrait of George Washington in their privy outhouse — hoping to offend Allen. Emerging from his first visit to the outhouse, Allen said nothing of the portrait. The loyalist pranksters inquired whether Allen had seen the portrait, and he responded, “Yes indeed, and it is a fine place to hang it.” Knowing they would be perplexed by his response, Allen went on to explain, “Nothing makes a Crown loyalist [crap] faster than the sight of George Washington.”**

I mentioned this story to make an important point: Since the founding of the Continental Marines on 10 November 1775, and their first amphibious assault at the “Battle of Nassau” on 3 March 1776, nothing has made America’s adversaries crap faster than the sight of United States Marines.

I closed with this quote from 19th century philosopher John Stuart Mill, which loyal Patriot readers will find familiar: “War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things; the decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feeling which thinks nothing worth a war, is worse. A man who has nothing which he cares more about than he does about his personal safety is a miserable creature who has no chance at being free, unless made and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself.”

I then noted that each of those two Marines had joined the ranks of “better men.”

Finally, my eyes began to “sweat” a bit, and his mom shed a few tears as our son raised his hand to take his first oath to “to Support and Defend” our Constitution as a Marine. That moment was bittersweet, because he had hoped and planned on my father being present and administering his oath. Dad didn’t make it, though, having died last October at age 92, but his NAS Pensacola cap and his lapel Wings of Gold did. I carried these to my son’s graduation and his commissioning in honor of his Granddad.

Footnote: Obama asked for a private audience with the Wing Commanders. In that meeting, Obama asked my son to “tell your parents I am very proud of them.” Well, I certainly take pride in what The Patriot has done to support and defend our Constitution against domestic enemies, Obama being chief among them.

**(According to Lincoln biographer Doris Kearns Goodwin, he often repeated a similar story, but this version comports more closely with the historical record.)

Pro Deo et Constitutione — Libertas aut Mors
Semper Vigilans Fortis Paratus et Fidelis

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