Honor is important in this military community that has trained and supported thousands of military personnel and their families for more than a century.
It is more than an intellectual concept. It is a living, breathing feature of everyday life here, shaping the conduct of our individual lives, how we treat each other, and how we raise our children. That is why what has happened to former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Mark Milley, is so stunning, so sad, and so terrifying.
Milley retired voluntarily last month after a 44-year career that included command of the 82nd Airborne at what was then Fort Bragg. He ultimately held command and staff positions in 8 divisions and special forces.
His record of dedicated and stellar service to our nation led former President Donald Trump to appoint him to the highest-ranking and most senior position in the United States Armed Services. Milley served in that position for four years.
But Milley angered his boss, not because of his job performance, but because his honor required him to defend the US Constitution against capricious and vindictive rule by a strongman government.
Because Milley supports the rule of law over the rule of an individual, he has said he expects to be thrown into prison along with other like-minded Americans if the United States elects a would-be dictator.
It is worth reading Milley’s own words about the rule of law in our nation for almost 250 years. In his farewell address less than a month ago, Milley said this.
“Today is not about anyone up on this stage…. It’s about something much larger than all of us. It’s about our democracy. It’s about our republic…. It’s about the ideas and values that make up this great experiment in liberty.
“Those values and ideas are contained within the Constitution of the United States of America, which is the moral North Star of all of us who have the privilege of wearing the cloth of our nation….
“You see, we in uniform are unique…among the world’s armies. We are unique among the world’s militaries. We don’t take an oath to a country. We don’t take an oath to a king or a queen or a tyrant or a dictator. We don’t take an oath to an individual. We take an oath to the Constitution, and we take an oath to the idea that is America, and we’re willing to die to protect it.”
Earlier during his tenure as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs but after he apparently offended the then-President, Milley sounded the same theme in a message to the Joint Forces, reminding members of their oaths to the Constitution.
“This document is founded on the essential principle that all men and women are born free and equal and should be treated with respect and dignity.”
“It also gives Americans the rights to freedom of speech and peaceful assembly….As members of the Joint Force — comprised of all races, colors, and creeds — you embody the ideals of our Constitution.”
“We all committed our lives to the idea that is America. We all stay true to that oath and the American people.”
As the federal, state, and local elections of 2024 loom, we would all do well to remember Milley’s words born from long experience both in the Army and in life.