In the hot summer of 1992, when I wasn’t running in my Navy-issued boondockers, I was running in my first pair of Nikes. They looked a lot like the ones in this picture. They were handed to me by another recruit as I walked in a line of freshly bald kids at the Navy’s basic training in Orlando, Florida.
Every one of the members of my 90-person company had a pair and our 180 feet would circumnavigate the square mile asphalt parking lot we called the grinder in them daily, running physical training as well as practicing our marching. If the grinder is still there, that asphalt has bits of my skin and blood embedded in it with the sweat, blood and tears of 1000s of other men and women who joined for their own personal reasons but ultimately, learned to espouse the following characteristics: Honor, Courage, Commitment.
My company was a team of men and women. One of the Navy’s first experiments in creating gender-integrated boot camp companies. We competed against four other totally male companies for different honors throughout the weeks of basic training and we performed better academically and physically across the board. We earned top honors as a company in that class and I attribute it to our combined talents and skills as men and women working together. We were a more cohesive team than the other companies.
I had those Nikes for a long time. They were just shoes handed to me to make me the same as everyone else in my company; making us uniform. They were part of the stripping of my previous identity as a civilian. A wide-eyed high school grad who was torn down to nothing and then rebuilt into a serviceman of integrity and dedication.
They were part of the physical foundation for the mental renovation that occurred over the weeks of intense work we all went through there.
I haven’t really thought much about those shoes until recently as many people have fallen into a faux rage over a company picking an image for an ad campaign. They’re just shoes.
Meanwhile, I drove down to Evansville recently and saw a man’s face emblazoned on the flag of the United States. This is true desecration. Where is your outrage at this?
Veterans did not fight for a pair of shoes or a company’s choices for an ad campaign. As a veteran, I am not offended by this.
Veterans fought and served to defend the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. The flag is representative of that union of states (13 stripes and 50 stars) who have agreed upon and believe in the ideals set forth by the Constitution and Bill of Rights. The flag is protected as that image of unity. It is not to be desecrated.
Another thing that is protected is the right to protest your government without fearing for your life. We started a revolution because of the oppression of a king and country that would not hear our grievances.
Anyone that loses their livelihood or something they love invoking the first of their protected rights is committed to their cause. We can disagree with him or her and how they go about their protest but I like to think that the Bill of Rights is written in somewhat of an order of importance from our founders’ point of view. Free speech, personal religion and protesting are all among the items protected first in this document. Our founders knew that the freedom to be heard was among the most important to ensure all the other freedoms.
We should not take action to silence any protester, we should reach across to understand them in unity under the protections offered by our country’s hard-fought rights. Hard fought for by the mixture of men and women of different ethnicities, races and religions who volunteered to serve their country in a uniform. Who put on a pair of shoes that first day in boot camp and offered their identities to be torn away and rebuilt for the good of a country’s people.
Just like my boot camp company overcame our male-dominated colleagues as a mixture of black, white and brown men and women, our country is only made stronger by its diversity.
Embrace it. Espouse it.