On Duty, Honor, Country
"What the Academy stands for has always been my guide throughout my military career, and to have approached the high ideals of duty, honor, and service to country that are the real spirit of West Point has to me a meaning that nothing else has. The longer I live, the further I have gone in the Service, the more I reverence the things that inspire the heart and soul of young men at West Point." -General John J. Pershing
As I approach graduation, General Pershing’s quote causes me to pause to contemplate the ‘real spirit’ of West Point. Honestly, in the past four years I have thought very little about duty, honor, or country. These three values remained a constant part of my life, but their importance was assumed and they acted on me subconsciously. That was exactly the opposite of how I thought about these values prior to West Point, and how I now increasingly am thinking about them. The ideals embodied in the West Point motto were the most attractive elements of West Point when I contemplated and prayed about my life after high school. I remember longing to be able to attend this institution; to be a cut above the rest of my generation, willing to sacrifice the MTV hedonism of Generation dotcom to serve something greater than myself. The values of duty, honor, and country found deep resonance with me, and I aspired to internalize them even before I received an acceptance letter.
During the whirly-burly of the past four years, I have had very little opportunity to objectively look at my life or my development in regards to duty, honor, and country. I was so busy executing my duty that I never contemplated duty itself. I strove daily to live honorably, but (excepting religious development) I never thought about honor. Finally, I served my country, but, focusing on my duty, I did not harbor a deep patriotism. I contemplated the West Point values less in the last four years than during the last two prior to Beast Barracks.
With a month left before Graduation, I have been reflecting a lot on what I have learned and gained in the last four years. At first thought, I considered the education, training, and experience I have gained. Certainly, all of these things will assist me as an officer, but upon a deeper reflection, I have come back to my starting point at West Point: duty, honor, and country. During the last four years, these values have guided me throughout challenges and periods of doubt, though I was largely unaware of their influence over me. Now that I stand at the doorstep of my military career, I look back and notice the moral and ethical development that took place over the past four years. I still commonly find myself tempted and placed in difficult situations, but when I think about the decisions I have made in the last four years and compare them to both my own life prior to West Point and my peers in my age group, I conclude that I consistently act in line with the West Point motto. I am proud to have internalized the values that I was so deeply drawn to years ago.
I cannot say with any certainty what it was about the last forty-six months that developed me, and I seriously doubt that such an attempt would be fruitful. Each cadet has had their own West Point experience, but as I consider my peers, I notice that most of us, one way or another, have internalized the West Point values. Like General Pershing, I believe that in the twilight of my time as a cadet, I have finally discovered the true spirit of West Point, and I look forward to developing the sense of reverence of my alma mater that only absence can create.