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September Commander's Corner

U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Andrew Thorne, the commander of the 169th Aerospace Combat Alert, at McEntire Joint National Guard Base, S.C., Aug. 4, 2017. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Senior Airman Megan Floyd)

U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Andrew Thorne, the commander of the 169th Aerospace Combat Alert, at McEntire Joint National Guard Base, S.C., Aug. 4, 2017. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Senior Airman Megan Floyd)

MCENTIRE JOINT NATIONAL GUARD BASE, S.C. --

“What do you do?” This is a question that I have often received from people I just met. It’s a conversation starter; one meant to reveal your profession or from where you derive your income. For many years I answered this question with “I’m a fighter pilot” or “I fly airplanes”. Being in a community with lots of pilots and guys who fly airplanes, this usually ended the interrogation.

But as I’ve gotten older and the top of my head has become more denuded, I’ve found the question deserves a more thorough and truthful answer. By neglecting to answer the question fully, I missed an opportunity to inform and educate others about what it is we do.

We all have different reasons for joining the South Carolina Air National Guard; mine was that I wanted to continue to fly. As I read about the incredible history of our country’s unique founding, I realized that joining the SCANG was much more than an opportunity to fly airplanes; it was an opportunity to serve my community, state, and nation. One that I increasingly wanted to share.

I have had the honor of administering the Oath of Enlistment to several new members of the SCANG. Before the oath, I asked the new Swamp Fox if they read what it is they are about to recite; do you remember it? In addition to pledging to follow the just orders of those appointed over us, we pledged to defend the Constitution of the State of South Carolina and the Constitution of the United States. You and I pledged to defend a social compact against “all enemies both foreign and domestic.” James Madison, long regarded as the “Father of the Constitution”, wrote that a social compact “contemplates a certain number of individuals as meeting and agreeing to form one political society, in order that the rights, the safety, and the interests of each may be under the safeguard of the whole.” Notice Madison wrote “under the safeguard of the whole,” not derived from the whole. He was expounding on the fact that our rights exist by nature, created by God; not created by then divvied out by government. He stated that all “just and free government” springs from this social compact and that the “just powers” of government are derived from the “consent of the governed”. Therefore our Founders set up a unique society that solely exists to secure the equal protection of the equal rights of all who consent to be governed. Edward Erler, a professor at California State University, wrote that “each person who consents to become a member of civil society…incur[s] the obligation to protect the rights of his fellow citizens.”

How do we do that? First, become an informed members of society. One of the first things to do is to read the Declaration of Independence; it sets the stage for why the United States Constitution was needed. Then, read the U.S. Constitution itself; we pledged to defend it so we should understand what’s in it. Another source is the Federalist Papers. Madison partnered with Alexander Hamilton and John Jay to write these in support of the ratification of the U.S. Constitution by the newly established States. Finally, read the Constitution of the State of South Carolina. 

Next, become an engaged member of society. The easiest way is to serve those around us, first our families, then our community, in ways that capitalize on each of our special gifts. I’m thankful to those who rejoice at the opportunity to visit the assisted living facility near my house; I’m amazed at those who desire to be a volunteer fireman; and thankful they’re ready the next time my leaf burning gets out of hand. Each of us has taken the very public step to serve our families and communities by joining the SCANG. We have each faced the same question and responded in the same way that George Washington did when he was given the opportunity to lead the Continental Army. He explained to his wife that he had to accept the command because “…It was utterly out of my power to refuse this appointment...as [it] would have reflected dishonor upon myself, and given pain to my friends.” George Washington believed it was his duty to serve his community; when given the opportunity, to not do so was unquestionable. I think Clarence Thomas, named as an Associate Justice to the U.S. Supreme Court by President George H. W. Bush in 1991, best described our “…obligation to protect the rights of…fellow citizens” when he said,

“At the risk of understating what is necessary to preserve liberty and our form of government, I think more and more that it depends on good citizens discharging their daily duties and obligations…And in addressing your own obligations and responsibilities in the right way, you actually do an important part on behalf of liberty and free government… [these] efforts…form the fabric of a civil society and a free and prosperous nation…”

We serve our families, our communities, and protect our fellow citizens and our American way of life. What do you do?