Soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines have disparate cultures that have evolved over time, of which all are rightfully proud. And yet, whether they fight on land, sea, in the air or even space, America’s fighting men and women share very similar core values. The Army, our oldest service, lists seven: loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, honor, integrity and personal courage; the Navy and Marines have three: honor, courage and commitment; the Air Force and Space Force also have three: integrity, service before self and excellence in all they do.
Regardless of service, all military members aspire to an ethos that places integrity, duty to country, courage and professional competence above all else, including themselves. That extends to the ultimate commitment they make, the willingness to lay down their lives for their nation, and especially for their fellow shipmate, wingman or battle buddy. In our uniformed services, there is no greater complement than to say, “I would go to war with you.”
How does one earn that honor? It starts with being at the top of your profession, not in terms of rank, but how well you do your job, especially under pressure. To paraphrase poet Rudyard Kipling, can you keep your head while all those about you are losing theirs? You earn it by displaying loyalty and teamwork, accepting responsibility when you fall short and sharing credit when the team succeeds. You earn it by your actions, not your words, and by demonstrating physical and moral courage.
More than anything else, saying “I would go to war with you” says I trust you with my life. I want you by my side when things get tough because I know I can count on you.
In the coming weeks, we will likely see President Donald Trump trot out a list of retired generals, admirals and senior noncommissioned officers who support his bid for reelection and four more years as commander in chief. Given their long association with their respective services, perhaps they should address which core values Trump has demonstrated since he’s been in office, or for that matter, at any time before his inauguration. Honor? Courage? Integrity? How about service before self?
These retired military leaders should also let us know if they would want Trump in their foxhole, on their wing, or beside them on a ship or submarine. With few exceptions, they all have combat experience. Simply put, would they go to war with Trump?
Trump’s retired military supporters may argue that they’re not voting for someone to fight alongside. True enough. But if you wouldn’t trust him with your life, why would you entrust him with the lives of more than 2 million service members? More importantly, why would you trust him with the lives of more than 330 million Americans?
Trump’s biggest test of his most important duty, protecting the people of the United States, was the coronavirus pandemic. He compared it to combat, saying that the spread of COVID-19 was “our big war” and labeled himself as a “wartime president.” Yet his lack of leadership in this war has led to more than 180,000 fatalities, more than the combined U.S. combat deaths in Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan and every other conflict since 1950.
“I’d go to war with you” implies that you’ll have my back. There is no deeper level of trust. Yet Trump, when given the opportunity to do just that, failed to respond to those who placed a bounty on the lives of U.S. service members. As commander in chief, the president didn’t have our back. Instead, he turned his back on every American in uniform.
Trump, as president, fails to live up to any values. He failed to serve in uniform when the opportunity arose and failed to protect our combat forces as commander in chief. He failed to protect the lives of the American people throughout the pandemic. He even failed to recognize the sacrifice of our war dead and labeled them as “losers.”
It’s little wonder that millions of service members and veterans would never go to war with Trump. They know they can’t count on a flawed and failed president, and neither can America.