Monday, June 10, 2024

Patriotic Leadership - Supporting Democracy

By Bricca Sweet, LTC USA (ret.)

Editor's Note: This is the speech written for and presented at the 2024 Memorial Day observance in Boone on Monday, May 27th. Sweet was commissioned in 1974 into the Women’s Army Corps and then the Military Intelligence Corps. She spent her career working at the Pentagon and within many levels of the US Army.

Good morning! I am so honored to be here, and to be part of this community of all you heroes who are here today! I could certainly share a few entertaining stories with a bit of a twist, as you might expect from a woman who went from being a school teacher in rural Idaho one day to an Army second lieutenant the next! I have so very many stories from my years in service, which I know is also true for each of you veterans here today. But this day is not a day for our stories.

Memorial Day is often a day of backyard parties and a celebration of the start of summer. For those of us who have served our nation in uniform, for veterans, this is also a somber day of remembrance, honoring the memories of those we’ve known who gave their lives, and remembering the even larger loss of the countless many we didn’t know who paid the ultimate sacrifice in service to our country. Today is a day for us to remember that we veterans are the sisters and brothers of the fallen. We owe it to those who gave their very lives to now be their voice. Would they be proud of how our lives honor their sacrifice? Are we honoring them with our example, our deeds, and our words?

Ronald Reagan said, “We’re blessed with the opportunity to stand for something -- for liberty, and freedom and fairness. And these things are worth fighting for, worth devoting our lives to.” Those profound words are the basis of my remarks today about patriotic leadership -- a patriotism that requires thoughtful, informed awareness and then requires us to carefully choose a principled course of action to fulfill the values of our country.

Could you each now take just a moment to think of a service member you knew who died serving our country. With that person clearly in mind, let’s ask ourselves this question: What kind of patriot would that person want us each to be? They would ask us to be patriotic leaders. Are we each acting as a patriotic leader, supporting our nation’s democracy? We, as veterans, in our duty to our nation and to our fallen sisters and brothers, must be patriotic leaders.

Some of you knew – even loved – my late husband, the incredible Colonel Sonny Sweet. While I did not actually work for him, Sonny did out-rank me. So, yes, after our first kiss, I asked if I still had to call him "Sir."  True to form, Sonny said that it would only be necessary in public! The Veterans Administration said that the lung cancer that killed my Sonny was caused by his service in Vietnam. He too joined the ranks of all those veterans who have given their lives in service to our nation. Each day, I ask myself if I am speaking for him in a manner that he would be proud of. Do my actions, leadership, and daily life reflect the depth of his sacrifice? All of us, as veterans, are tasked to be living examples and the voice for our fallen who can no longer speak. Would they be proud of us as patriotic leaders in our support of the United States and our democracy?

Too often lately, we hear so much thoughtless talk, labelling, blaming, and we see mean-spirited, hurtful actions, so much "Ready, Fire, Aim!" Too late, way too late, to aim after firing. For us, as patriotic leaders, action can only come after we thoughtfully consider differing needs with dignity and respect for those who are impacted by our actions.

Reverend Peter Marshall, the distinguished minister, said, “May we think of freedom not as the right to do as we please, but as the opportunity to do what is right?” To do what is right, to truly be patriotic leaders, we must hold dear those values so clearly expressed in the 1776 Preamble to our nation’s Declaration of Independence: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."  Can we, as patriotic leaders, focus on the meaning of those values in our lives and ensure that our own behavior represents those enduring values? Are we each providing patriotic leadership? Does a patriotic leader dismiss those who hold different opinions, or do we seek to understand those differences? Is it patriotic to reduce Americans to mean names and denigrating labels? Are we each choosing to behave in ways that represent the fundamental values of our country -- democracy, freedom of speech, the pursuit of happiness -- values for which we all wore our nation’s uniform so proudly?

What could patriotic leadership actually look like in our own lives? 

1) We veterans must stand up for our nation’s values and democracy by confronting name-calling when it occurs around us.

2) We can also verify news stories by checking the facts and examining sources for bias. 

3) As veterans, we are principled leaders, not blind followers, and thus must do what is right, not just what those around us are doing. As for me, I am also working hard to get people to exercise that highest responsibility of American citizenship – to VOTE!

Franklin Roosevelt said, “The fate of America cannot depend on any one man. The greatness of America is grounded in principles and not on any single personality.” What principles are we creating as our legacy? I hope that we all want to build a legacy of thoughtful dignity, and then powerful action, to fight for our country as trustworthy, ethical, and dignified citizens.

Bricca with the late Sonny Sweet

Do we honor the value of dignity in the way we treat others, others who are different from us, a different class, a different race, a different ideology or religion? Tomorrow, next month, five years from now, I want us all to be able to look back and be proud of our choices and our actions, to know that we truly are patriotic leaders, and that we leave a legacy of thoughtful reflection and dignified action.When I think about patriotic leadership, I think about the hope that is so uniquely American. It is my hope that today, and every day, we remember that we who wore our nation’s uniform are still in service to our country! I hope that we all serve in ways that respect the rights of others. I hope we all do what is right instead of what is easy or emotional. I hope that we all leave a legacy of patriotic leadership, a legacy for hope in an America that is committed to do the right thing, and to do it with dignity and fairness.

Of course, as we veterans all know, there is always a mission in leadership – the mission of patriotic leadership is to support our nation’s democracy! Democracy was central to President Lincoln’s Gettysburg message, and is certainly what we, as veterans, stand for: An American government ofALL the people, byAll the people, and for ALL the people!

This Memorial Day, we each have the chance to review our own leadership, to make sure that we are veterans who are worthy of the sacrifice of those we pay tribute to today. Are we honoring them in a way that would allow them to rest easy, knowing that their sacrifice was not in vain? Let us all, my fellow veterans and my fellow Americans, be thoughtful patriotic leaders as we help our fellow citizens understand the importance of a strong democracy to our national security. Let’s honor the memory of our fallen comrades such that they would be proud of each of us as patriotic leaders. Let us each honor them all, and bring honor to the United States of America. Thank you.

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