by U.S. Air Force Public Affairs/ Douglas Lefforge
WASHINGTON D.C.- — HAPPY BIRTHDAY, AMERICA!
Today is a day for celebration. And whether with parades, fireworks, backyard barbeques, or enjoying the seventh-inning stretch at a baseball game, we Americans know how to celebrate the 4th of July…because, today is our Nation’s birthday — our Independence Day – a day 235 years ago our forefathers pledged to build the free nation that we enjoy today.
Their vision of a free nation was immortalized in 1776 in the Declaration of Independence. Our Nation’s founders wanted to create a federal republic founded by their own traditions and values separate from Great Britain. They believed all people have certain unalienable rights – the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. These rights are the cornerstone of our existence, and the attempts to suppress them led our Founding Fathers to declare independence from the British Crown. Today, we hold these inherent rights to be just as dear – which we demonstrate by our service in protection of this country.
During the midst of the Revolutionary War with Great Britain, members of the Second Continental Congress delivered a list of grievances against King George III, declaring to the world why the Colonies in America were absolving their allegiance with their former monarch. In this Declaration, our Founding Fathers proclaimed that the Thirteen United Colonies, “are, and of Right ought to be, Free and Independent States,” and that all political connection between the States and Great Britain was dissolved. Fifty-six men representing the thirteen original colonies inscribed their signatures to this parchment pledging their lives, fortunes, and sacred honor to fulfill their dreams of a free nation.
Our founding fathers, along with other citizens of our fledgling democracy, fought for their beliefs, facing enormous challenges and adversity. Throughout our Nation’s history, their successors were also faced with, and overcame, challenges and adversity within their generations. As a Nation we grew and learned and evolved to this very moment in time. Had we not, we wouldn’t know the full latitudes of our freedoms, and we might not be joined together here now…able to experience the rights and privileges for which so many have sacrificed their lives to preserve.
To be a free nation — to keep a free nation — it must be protected by a strong, standing military, a fact of which our forefathers were well aware. Thomas Jefferson said, “For a people who are free, and who mean to remain so, a well-organized and armed militia is their best security.”
And so to protect the American Colonies, in June 1775, the Continental Congress authorized the enlistment of militia riflemen to serve – and the U.S. Army was born. A few months later, our U.S. Navy and Marine Corps were born when the Continental Congress first approved outfitting two warships, and then approved raising two battalions of Marines. In 1790, three years after the federal government was formed through the ratification of the Constitution, the U.S. Revenue Cutter Service – now known as the Coast Guard – was formed.
As generations passed, and as our Nation’s interests at home and abroad came under fire, American ingenuity produced machines that defied this earth’s gravitational effects. Fortunately, what was then known as the War Department realized the value of aircraft as formidable military assets. From World War I to today, military aircraft have provided the third dimension in battle, proving their strategic value in securing our national interests and protecting our citizens. Because air superiority was such a crucial part of our military success in World War II, in 1947, the U.S. Air Force was born from under the wings of the Army Air Corps.
I remind you of these events not just as a history lesson, but to remind each of us what our founding fathers did to secure and protect the colonial citizens striving to build a fledgling nation…to bring attention to the brave men and women on whom we rely today to keep our Nation free…and to remember those who have kept watch over our country during the centuries in between – our United States Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Coast Guard and Air Force.
Although the Air Force is the much younger sister of the other Services – a mere 64 years old this September to their over 200 year tenure, we have the honor – and responsibility – to share in the heritage, protection and celebration of our Nation. Since the inception of our Air Force, our Nation’s Airmen have and continue to set the standard for excellence in the face of challenges and adversity.
Today, Airmen in the Guard, Reserves and on active duty are deployed to numerous locations around the world. More than 41,000 Airmen are deployed and more than 57,000 are forward-stationed beyond the shores of our country. In addition, approximately 134,000 Airmen are directly supporting Combatant Commander requirements from their home stations.
These global support Airmen contribute to the Nation’s defense by operating the Nation’s space and missile forces; processing and exploiting remotely collected Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance, or ISR, systems data; providing national intelligence support; operating and defending our cyber networks; and executing air sovereignty alert missions over our Nation’s Capitol and other strategic locations.
In addition to our continuous high operations tempo in Iraq and Afghanistan, this year the Air Force provided humanitarian support to countries like Japan, struck by a devastating earthquake and tsunami in March; supported NATO in Operation NEW DAWN by enforcing the no-fly zone and protecting civilians in Libya; and our Airmen have combated wildfires, shored up flooding rivers and provided tornado relief right here within our own borders.
Like other times in American history, the United States and its Air Force both face enormous challenges today. As we take on these challenges, we should take inspiration from previous generations of Americans who confronted adversity in their own time.
Through many trials and tribulations, and sometimes, despite long odds, many of those who served before in uniform fought and died to preserve and protect our Nation’s freedoms and rights…just as our servicemen and women today swear to support and defend our Nation…some, too, have paid the ultimate sacrifice with their life for their dedication to our Nation.
Secretary of the Air Force Michael Donley said, “I believe that we serve because our service has a noble purpose: the preservation of our Constitution and an American way of life. We serve because the Nation, our American ideals and the people we serve are worth all the dedication and sacrifice required for their defense, worth everything we have as individuals to give even life itself. We serve because we know that, in the grand sweep of history, the American experiment is unfinished and its long term success in a dynamic global environment cannot be taken for granted.”
As we recognize and celebrate the anniversary of the birth of our Nation, let us give thanks for the vision of our Founding Fathers and give thanks to all those who have served our country. All our citizens should reflect on the debt we owe to those Soldiers, Sailors, Marines, Coast Guardsmen and Airmen who have won and preserved our freedoms, scores of whom paid the ultimate sacrifice.
Today is also a day to recommit ourselves to doing all we can to ensure that our children, our grandchildren, and all the generations that follow will be born into the freedoms that are our birthright as Americans.
In the words of President Ronald Reagan, “Freedom is a fragile thing and is never more than one generation away from extinction. It is not ours by inheritance; it must be fought for and defended constantly by each generation, for it comes only once to a people. Those who have known freedom and then lost it have never known it again.”
So, today, I salute you, I salute our flag, I salute the United States of America and once again, I bid all of us here today – and our Nation — a very Happy Birthday!