“I … do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God.”
— Oath of Enlistment
Today, we rightfully honor those who have sworn to protect our nation and its Constitution, giving years and risking lives to answer the call to serve and preserve our republic.
What is a veteran? The VA states that Title 38 of the Code of Federal Regulations defines a veteran as “a person who served in the active military, naval, or air service and who was discharged or released under conditions other than dishonorable.”
But a veteran is much more than that limited definition makes apparent. For example, veterans constitute an increasingly small percentage of the U.S. population, in part because the many who served in World War II have left us but also because fewer are enlisting. The last draft ended in 1973. In 2016, 7% of adults were veterans, down from 18% in 1980, according to the Census Bureau. The defense of our nation has fallen on a shrinking portion of the population. Shouldn’t we honor that service more than ever?
Readers may be unaware that a number of veterans are immigrants in a tradition that goes back to America’s War for Independence. About 20% of Union soldiers in the Civil War were immigrants. Today about 3% of the 18.2 million veterans were born outside the U.S. Naturalized citizens, lawful permanent residents and nationals from the Marshall Islands, the Federated States of Micronesia and Palau all may serve in our armed forces.
Additionally, the demographic makeup of veterans is shifting. The percentage of women is growing. About 9% of veterans are women. By 2045, the share of female veterans is expected to double to 18%, according to Pew Research. Veterans are also becoming statistically younger given the number recruited in recent wars and the diminishing population of WWII, Korea and Vietnam veterans.
Sadly, fewer of our leaders are veterans. Fewer members of Congress, judges, elected officials and community leaders are veterans today. Particularly on the national stage, veterans bring a deeper understanding of the importance of defense and the costs of conflict.
Veterans are individuals, but they share characteristics that contribute to our communities. Loyalty, staying steadfast under stress, integrity and a strong work ethic all come to mind.
The above oath is not forgotten upon discharge. In addition to their service, remember those who served for their ongoing contributions after the tour of duty ends.