As the commanding officer of Naval Station Great Lakes, I have the benefit of an incredibly short, stress-free commute to work every morning. As I take the one-block walk from my home to Building 1, the Naval Station headquarters, I get a clear view of the large flagpole on Ross Field that proudly flies our nation's flag for all to see as they come aboard and depart the installation.
In my 26 years of naval service, rarely has a day gone by that I have not been in the presence, in the shadow of our nation's flag. I can honestly say the sight of "Old Glory" and the traditions surrounding this beautiful symbol of the United States and our American ideals still evoke strong emotions and vivid memories.
On this Independence Day, a day where we unapologetically break out our red, white, and blue bunting and display American flags at home and on Main Street, I would like to share some thoughts on what our simple, beautiful flag represents, reminds, or reaffirms for me as a member of the armed forces, as a citizen, and as a proud American.
• When I see young students, Scouts, and cadets learning to properly display, parade, fold, and care for the American flag, it strengthens and solidifies my hope tomorrow's generations will understand, support, defend, and carry forward the principles and ideals our flag represents.
• When I am at a public event and those in attendance rise in unison, face our flag, place their hand over their heart, and sing the national anthem, I am inspired and reminded that although we are a diverse, melting pot of a nation, we are more similar than different and remain united by and through a common bond and common principles.
• As the color guard "Parades the Colors" at a Recruit Training Command (boot camp) graduation at Great Lakes, I am energized by the enthusiasm and excitement of the Navy's newest sailors who volunteered to serve, selflessly defend, and proudly represent our flag and our national interests throughout the world.
• When I see an American flag being burned, desecrated, or disrespected here at home, by our own citizens, I am reminded our democracy is not perfect -- there is always work to do. Although saddened, I must reaffirm the oath that I, and every member of our armed forces have taken to support and defend our Constitution and the freedoms it allows us to openly exercise.
• When I see an American flag on the uniform of a police officer, firefighter, paramedic, or any first responder, I am thankful we are blessed with remarkable professionals who stand ready to risk their lives for our safety and security at home. We owe these heroes a huge debt of gratitude.
• When I see an American flag draped over a coffin on an airport tarmac, I am reminded we leave no one behind. We will not rest until all of our brothers and sisters return home.
• When taps is played and the honor guard crisply, meticulously executes the 13 folds on the American flag that escorted our shipmate to their final resting place, I am reminded our freedom is not free; it has come at great cost. Many have paid the ultimate price.
• When the American flag is presented to a loved one at a funeral, it reaffirms the promise our nation must keep to that family who served alongside their service member and continues to grieve and serve long after their loved one is laid to rest.
• When I place an American flag next to a stark white military headstone at a cemetery, I pledge that we, as service members and citizens, shall not forget the names and actions of those who have gone before us in service to our grateful nation.
• When "Morning Colors" occurs at 8 a.m. (all traffic and movement on the installation stops as we salute the flag during the playing of our national anthem), I remember those I have served with throughout the years, across various regions of the world, who put service above self, and continue to keep the United States safe, strong and free.
Even though the American flag may represent, remind, or reaffirm different things at different times, it always remains a proud and resilient symbol of the ideals I, as an American, hold dear.
So as we celebrate our independence from tyranny and rejoice in our hard-fought liberty and freedom, I ask that we pause in the shadow of one of our nation's flags, so prominently displayed high above our cities and neighborhoods, to reflect on and recommit to the principles and promises represented by this symbol of our democracy.
Let us all commit to showing our newest generations that respect for the American flag -- not only today, but every day -- is not just blind reverence for a piece of cloth but a heartfelt appreciation and honest respect for our unifying American ideals and for the sacrifices of so many, at home and abroad, who have defended, fought and sometimes died to protect and preserve what we, as Americans, must continue to cherish.