I never quite understood the meaning of a simple verse until the beginning of last summer. I memorized the words when I first started school in kindergarten. My teachers worked consistently with my classmates and I to make sure we knew the pledge by heart, but I had no idea why this short, little anthem needed to be rehearsed every day. Apparently, every morning schoolchildren across the United States of America place their hand across their chest, above their heart, and in unison, recite the pledge. The morning bell shrieked, signaling the beginning of the school day, and the students monotonously recited the thirty-one word Pledge of Allegiance, as we did every morning. The words drained out of our mouths and poured into the air without any understanding of the pledge to America. By June 13, 2013, after spending an entire school year focusing on the history of America, spending a week in Washington, D.
C., and paying close attention to the words of the pledge, I developed a sense of respect for my country and initiated the enlistment process of becoming a service woman of the United States Air Force.
Out of my entire family, two men were the only military fellows we had in the family. My grandfather, George Mandella, Jr., served in the United States Navy during the early years of the Korean War. My great-uncle, William Kimsey, Jr., also served in the United States Air force during the later years of World War II. Not only did I look up to these two men for their service to the United States, but also I admired their passion for defending our nation and every single person in it. My grandfather once told me that, when he faced the enemy, the combination of fear and panic was so immense that it took over his entire body. However, he knew that in the end, no matter what happened to him, he was comfortable with knowing he had attempted to restore justice in the world. No matter the amount of blood, sweat, and tears shed by United States soldiers, the price of freedom had no price tag attached to it. They fought for the well-being of the nation, not the individual. These men and women left behind a trail of footsteps for their progeny to follow.
In January of 2013, I went on the Close Up program during the Inauguration of President Obama and studied the historical importance of several sites throughout the city. As I surveyed these historical sites, I saw the reflection of a nation preserved in the form of monuments and memorials devoted to those who sacrificed their lives for the sake of the nation. The first site we visited was Arlington Cemetery. We hiked up the hills and scoped out hundreds and thousands of identical, white stones that marked the burial spots of thousands of American heroes. Each stone had a small, American flag staked in front of it as a reminder of the sacrifice these heroes made of themselves to their nation. My eyes swelled with tears and rolled down my face as I stood in the middle of this extraordinary site, and I truly felt proud to be an American. All of the stones that sat on top of the fine, cut grass resembled the number of men and women who sacrificed their lives because they loved their country and its people. In my heart, I knew this was something I wanted to be a part of for the greater glory of God.
After many discussions with peers, family members, friends and teachers, I agreed to make an oath to my country on June 13, 2013. When the big day finally rolled around, I had a small number of family and friends surround me as I walked into the small, furnished room to make my vows to America. I saw my mom directly across the room from me, silently crying to herself, her face red and puffy. My best friend Anthony comforted my mom on her left and stood smiling at me as he anxiously waited for me to swear in. I spotted the American flag jutting out from the wall, elegantly draped from the pole that secured it safely. I had no idea what the oath sounded like, but for some reason the words to the Pledge of Allegiance appeared in my thoughts, and I remembered my days as a young school girl, when I thought nothing of the power the words would have on my future.
Colonel Addison walked into the room; his big, blue eyes made it easy for me to keep my eyes focused on him. “Are you ready?” he asked, and I nervously replied, “Absolutely.” He began by asking me to hold my right hand up, and I obeyed. I couldn’t help but smile to the extent where my cheeks began to numb; the image of my close friends and family members made me feel so loved. “Repeat after me,” this was it; I had no going back from this moment on. My heart raced, afraid to make any mistakes, emotions running all throughout my body. Finally, he began the oath of enlistment, “I, state your name,” and I followed, “I, Jessica Lynn.” The next words felt like a completely different person was speaking the words for me, but I snapped back into the moment and repeated after the Colonel, “Do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States, and the State of Louisiana against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the Governor of Louisiana and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to law and regulations. So help me God.” There are times when we realize moments in life have influenced who we are today, and then it takes an even greater realization to understand in those moments the beauty of inner peace and stillness.
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