Are You Proud to be an American?

Lt. Col. Matthew Cantore, 3rd Space Experimentation Squadron commander

Lt. Col. Matthew Cantore, 3rd Space Experimentation Squadron commander


Editor's note: This commentary was originally published June 25, 2014.

A few weeks ago, I had the great privilege of attending a Naturalization ceremony in Denver. On this day, 32 people from 21 countries pledged their allegiance to the United States of America. I watched the expressions of each of these new Americans as they gleefully accepted their Certificates of Naturalization. In many cases, this was the culmination of an arduous process which distinguished those who were truly willing to relinquish their previous nationality for American citizenship. They were joined in this jubilant ceremony by their families and friends. As our Chief of Staff, Gen. Welsh, often says, "Every Airmen has a story." No doubt, every one of these 32 new citizens also had a long story where they overcame many odds to become U.S. citizens.

In the midst of this ceremony, something took me completely by surprise. After reading the rights bestowed upon these new citizens, the Department of Homeland Security officer spoke about the great sacrifice and service of our nation's Armed Forces. She then asked the audience if all former and current members of the United States Armed Forces could stand. As I gazed across the room I quickly realized I was the only one. Humbly, I stood. I was not ready for what transpired next. The room erupted in vigorous applause with loud cheers and many waved small American flags. I smiled for the new citizens, the DHS officers, and the many onlookers in attendance. It only lasted for a few seconds, but in this one moment, I felt a surge of pride in not only our profession of arms, but our nation as a whole. I realized the applause was not for me, but rather for all of the soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines who valiantly served, many of whom fought in combat for our nation's freedoms, and also in tribute of those who paid the ultimate sacrifice with their life.

After several days passed I reflected on this event. I was still in awe of the great tribute given to me and all of us who have or continue to serve our nation. I want to share with you two truths.

Never think your service to our nation is mundane. Many of us wear the uniform every day. We commute to and from Schriever AFB. We go to our place of work and execute our mission without fanfare. We seek no reward nor accolades for our actions. When the day's duty is done, we go home, take off our uniform, and go about our lives with our civilian neighbors. This routine can lead some to think their service to our nation is mundane. On the contrary, what you do as a member of our nation's military deters those from challenging the freedoms Americans holds dear and ensures the next generation can live their lives in peace. Just as I experienced, millions of Americans are exuberantly thankful for our unwavering service to defend the Constitution and the steadfast values which make America free. We must remember that our profession is more than a job; it is a profound duty which underlies our nation's strength and integrity. We need to be proud of our service and regardless of your rank, skill set, or duties, everything you do is essential to our freedom.

U.S. citizenship is more than just a status. Just as important as the value of serving our nation is that of citizenship itself. Most of us don't often ponder what is means to be a U.S. citizen; we were born with this identity. It is something we denote on a block on our tax forms, security clearance paperwork, or voter registration. Yet, U.S. citizenship is so much more than just a status. Watching those 32 people become new citizens reminded me there is significant meaning to one's citizenship. It means that they belong to a particular nation with their heart, soul, and mind. Being a U.S. citizen should be just as important to each of us who did not have to choose our citizenship and meet stringent requirements. Therefore, never underplay the importance of being a part of this great nation. Your way of life is a result of those who paid dearly for our nation's independence and equally granted liberties. We all enjoy these benefits regardless of our age, race, or religion. We should be proud to be Americans.

As July 4th nears, I encourage you to explore what it means to be an American. Think about the rights you have regardless of whether you obtained your citizenship by birth or through another source. No citizen is more or less American than the other. It is a great honor to be a part of this country. Furthermore, ponder your service. What you do every day matters more than you can fathom. Be proud to call yourself a soldier, sailor, airmen, or marine. I hope someday you will have an experience similar to the one I had at the Naturalization ceremony. After all, everyone deserves a little applause for their service to our great nation.