Break your routine; learn about what you defend

SCHRIEVER AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- It's a regular part of my Thursday-morning routine: take a first glimpse of the paper when I get into the office, then take copies across the hall to the commander's office, the chief's desk, the director of staff, protocol and a few others. 

I happened in on an informal conversation between the chief and another NCO the morning of Jan. 19, and he asked me: How many amendments from the Bill of Rights did I know?

We started down the list of the first ten amendments of the U.S. Constitution--ten guarantees set into the foundation of our government that make ours the most free nation on earth.

"What's the First Amendment?" he asked.

I gave him the list: freedom of speech and religion, freedom to petition the government and prohibition of state-sponsored religion. That was an easy one. So was the Second Amendment--the right to bear arms.

After that, it wasn't so easy.

"What's the Third?" the chief asked.

I confessed I didn't know that one.

"That's the one that says the government can't force you to quarter military in your home," he said. We continued the conversation; and while I know most of the basic protections the Bill of Rights offers us, I didn't necessarily know their order.

We arrived at the Ninth and 10th amendments, which I remembered with a sigh of relief: the Ninth Amendment states the rights of the people are not limited to what is outlined in the Bill of Rights; the 10th Amendment grants to the states and the people all powers not explicitly given to the federal government.

We covered a few other amendments as well: the 13th, 14th, 15th and 19th, to name a few. Then the chief asked me, "Why do you think it's important to know these?"

Why is it important to know about the Bill of Rights and the Constitution? I thought back to something I had said twice--once in April 1999 and again in December 2004.

"I ... do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States ...."

Those words are the foundation of the oath taken by every member ever to join the U.S. Armed Forces. They are words for which men and women have shed blood and given their lives for 229 years and for which you and I may be asked to do the same. The uniforms we wear are a daily reminder of that commitment.

Chief Kuck's question cut all this down to one question: Do you know what millions of Americans have fought for? Do you know what you have sworn to uphold and may die for? Do you know what our basic, guaranteed rights are as citizens of the United States?

If you have sworn to support and defend the Constitution--if you wear the uniform--you should. If you don't, break your own routine today and take some time to read the words that make this country free.