"I do solemnly swear..."

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Donald Wren
  • 445th Logistics Readiness Squadron commander
"I do solemnly swear"...every American joining the noble work of defending our Nation began their careers by doing one seemingly simple thing...solemnly swearing to an oath of office.

The military oath for officers and enlisted is more than a simple recitation of words. It is a commitment. Through understanding our history, we can better comprehend how the enlisted and the officer oaths bind us together as a unique and important national defense enterprise. It is our pledge to the Nation, to those standing with us now, and to the many that preceded us.

Military oaths have evolved since the Continental Congress established them in 1775. Upon taking the first enlisted oath, early patriots swore allegiance to the United States and declared obedience to the "Continental Congress, generals and officers." The Constitution was 12 years away from being adopted; therefore, the object of allegiance was the notion of the United States as manifested by the Congress.

Language in the officer's oath renounced and disavowed any allegiance to the British King. It declared "...I renounce, refuse and abjure any allegiance or obedience to him; and I do swear that I will, to the utmost of my power, support, maintain, and defend the said United States against the said king, George the third, and his heirs and successors..." In simple terms, these patriots committed treason. While the enlisted oath did not contain such treasonous words, it bound them to the treasonous acts of the "Congress, generals, and officers" to whom they had sworn obedience.

In 1862, military oaths were changed to address circumstances presented by the Civil War. The Congress added "...I have never borne arms against the United States...that I have not yielded voluntary support to any pretended government, authority, power or constitution within the United States, hostile or inimical thereto." These words added clarity to the goal of Federalist to preserve the Union.

President Lincoln and other Unionists did not recognize the Confederacy as a legitimate government, hence the phrase "pretend government." On the other hand, the Confederate Oath swore allegiance to the Confederate States without mention of allegiance to their constitution. Making this pledge, both sides understood the gravity of their commitment...thus, pitting father against son and brother against brother.

The current military oath of office for officers was adopted in 1959 and the Oath of Enlistment in 1962. Both proclaim allegiance to the Constitution. In addition, the Enlisted Oath requires enlisted members to pledge obedience to the president, officers and Uniform Code of Military Justice.

The military oath begins with the word "solemnly." This one word conveys the enormity of the total statement. It is the binding agent in the promise that we make to our nation, to our families, and to each other. It is the word that allows us, those making this promise, to know with absolute assurance that we share a common commitment. It is the catalyst for our Airman's Creed and our dedication to integrity, service and excellence.