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Why be in the military? "Because I want to serve my country"

Joint Base Lewis-McChord commander

Published: 01:57PM May 1st, 2014

Commanding a joint base makes me appreciate the “U.S.” on our uniform service tapes more than ever. After 20 months as Joint Base Lewis-McChord’s commander, my focus rests on what I and the Joint Base staff can do to support our “U.S.” service members and their families – regardless of whether they’re Soldiers, Airmen, Sailors or Marines.

That said, I believe our service members’ focus should be more on what they can do for the “U.S.” on their uniform–with less emphasis placed on whether their uniform says Army, Air Force, Navy or Marines. Because JBLM is a joint base, I get to see this in action every day as service members of all branches work side-by-side to complete the mission.

When I ask young Soldiers and Airmen why they’re serving, the most frequent answer they give is, “Because I want to serve my country.” I don’t take that answer lightly. Why? Because today less than one-tenth of 1 percent of America’s young people choose to serve.

Their dedication to serving their country reminds me of what President John F. Kennedy said during his 1961 inaugural address, “Ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country.”

That’s what we’re doing. By serving our country we’re defending the basic principles that make the United States unique. These principles are captured in the U.S. Constitution, principles that we’ve all sworn to defend when we enlisted or were commissioned. Remember, the phrase, “...defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic...”

Our Constitution is the bedrock of our country. It’s critical to who we are today as a nation and as a people. Given its importance, it’s studied in school and frequently quoted by media pundits. In view of our unique relationship with it, every service member should be familiar with its contents and regularly read it. But how many of you do?

When was the last time you read the Constitution?

Here’s your chance to reacquaint yourself with one of the most important documents in U.S. and perhaps the world’s history. This week, I’m devoting the rest of my column to an abbreviated version of the U.S. Constitution, so you can review the document we’re duty bound to uphold.

Article 1. Legislative Branch


We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

Sec 1 –

All Legislative Powers herein granted are vested in a Congress, made up of a Senate and House of Representatives.

Sec 2 – House :

Representatives will be elected every 2 years and must be 25 years or older. Number of Representatives per state is determined by census (14th Amendment), every 10 years. The House shall have the sole power of impeachment.

Sec 3 – Senate:

There will be 2 Senators per state elected to a 6-year term, with one-third of the Senators up for election (17th Amendment) every two years. Senators must be 30 years or older. The Vice-President of the United States will serve as the president of the Senate and may only cast a vote to break a tie. The Senate tries impeachments, with the Chief Justice of the U.S. presiding.

Sec 4 – Elections/Meetings:

Congress begins on Jan 3 each year and the president is inaugurated on January 20th (20th Amendment).

Sec 5 – Membership/Rules :

A quorum is a majority of members present. Each chamber makes its own rules to qualify its members and can expel a member with 2/3 vote. Each house must keep a journal.

Sec 6 – Compensation:

Members are paid out of the treasury, but raises may only take effect for the next elected Congress (27th Amendment). Members cannot be appointed to a civil position while also serving as a Senator or Representative.

Sec 7 – Legislative Process:

• Revenue bills must originate in the House.

• Senate may initiate other types of bills

• When approved by both houses, president may sign a bill into law

• If president doesn’t sign, the bill becomes law in 10 days

• If president vetoes, a 2/3 vote of both houses is required to override it

Sec 8 – Powers of Congress:

Tax; Pay debts; Provide Defense & General Welfare; Borrow money; Regulate commerce (nations, states, tribes); Naturalization; Bankruptcy; Coin money; Post Office; Copyrights; Lower Courts; Punish Piracy; Declare War; Capture of Enemies; Raise/Support Army; Support Navy; Rules for Militia (National Guard); Military Justice; District of Columbia; Forts, arsenals, docks; Make laws for above

Sec 9 – Limits on Congress:

• Cannot prohibit importation of persons [slaves] prior to 1808.

• Cannot suspend “Writ of Habeas Corpus”

• No “Bill of Attainder” or “ex post facto” (after the fact) law shall be passed

• No Income Taxes [reversed by 16th Amendment to allow income tax]

• No export taxes

• No preference of one state over another

• No funds taken from treasury except by appropriation of law

• No titles of nobility

Sec 10 – Powers prohibited to States:

• No treaty, alliance, confederation, or letters of Marque.

• Cannot coin money or create other legal tender

• No bills of attainder, ex-post facto laws, impair contracts or grant nobility

• No tax/duties on imports or exports except by control of Congress

• Cannot enter into agreement or pact with another State

• Cannot keep troops or ships of war, or engage in war (unless actually invaded)

Article II. Executive Branch

Sec 1 – President:

The president shall execute the laws of the United States. He, & his vice-president shall be elected to a term of 4 years by “electoral college” (12th Amendment). The president must be a natural born citizen, aged 35 years or older. Pay will not increase or decrease during his term & he shall take an oath of office: President shall not serve more than two terms of office (8 years) (22nd Amendment).

If president dies or is removed, the vice-president shall preside, and if he should die, the Speaker of the House (or further succession which is also described) becomes president (25th Amendment).

Sec 2 – Civilian Control of Military and Presidential Duties:

• Commander in Chief of the military services

• Executive Department heads make up his “Cabinet”

• Power to grant pardons

• Power to make treaties if 2/3 of Senate concurs

• Appoints ambassadors, judges, other offices as established by Congress with consent of Senate (or without consent of Senate if the appointment is made during Senate recess).

Sec 3 – State of the Union:

President shall give Congress information on the State of the Union, recommend laws, may convene one or both houses of Congress, and if they disagree, may adjourn Congress. He is to faithfully execute the laws of the U.S.

Sec 4 – Disqualification:

The President, Vice President and all civil Officers of the United States, shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.

Article III. Judicial Branch

Sec 1 – Judicial Powers:

Judicial power is in the Supreme Court. Judges of both the supreme and inferior courts shall hold office during good behavior and their pay may not be reduced while in office.

Sec 2 – Trial by Jury:

• Judicial power extends to all cases under the constitution, Laws of the U.S., Treaties, and between States, (Limitations in 11th Amendment)

• Supreme Court tries cases affecting Ambassadors or States.

• All other cases may be appealed to the Supreme Court

• Crimes (except impeachment) shall be by Jury in the State where the crime was committed

Sec 3 - Treason:

Treason consists of waging war against the U.S., siding with enemies, or giving them Aid and Comfort. Conviction is only on the testimony of two witnesses, or confession in open court.

Article IV. The States

Sec 1 – Each State to honor all others:

Full faith and credit shall be given by each State to the public acts, records and judicial decisions of every other State.

Sec 2 – State Citizens/Extradition:

• Citizens of each State are entitled to all privileges/immunities of the other States.

• A person charged with a crime who flees to another State is to be returned to the original State.

• Slavery is abolished (13th Amendment)

Sec 3 – New States:

New States may be admitted by Congress.

Sec 4 – Republican Government:

The United States shall :

• Guarantee to every State a Republican form of government,

• Shall protect each State against invasion, and

• Against domestic violence.

Article V. Amendment

Amendments may be proposed by 2/3 of both Houses, or by 2/3 of the States, and amendments shall be included in the Constitution by approval of 3⁄4 of the States legislatures (or State conventions).

Article VI. Debts, Supremecy, Oaths

Debts: All debts contracted before adoption of the Constitution remain valid.

Supreme Law: The Constitution, the Laws of the United States, and all Treaties shall be the Supreme Law, binding every Judge in every State.

Oaths: U.S. and State Senators, Representatives, judges, and officers shall be bound by oath (or affirmation) to support this Constitution, but no religious test shall ever be required.

Article VII. Ratification

• Ratification by nine States is sufficient to establish this Constitution between the ratifying States.

• Done in Convention by the Unanimous Consent of the States present the Seventeenth Day of September in the Year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and Eighty seven and of the Independence of the United States of America the Twelfth.

• In Witness whereof We have hereunto subscribed our Names:


New Hampshire



New York

New Jersey



Maryland Virginia

North Carolina

South Carolina


To read the full U.S. Constitution, plus the Bill of Rights and the Amendments, visit