Great Americans, Great Patriots

  • Published
  • By Col. Brian Maas
  • 354th Operations Group
A young captain I knew frequently used the phrase, "You're a great American"--it had a real nice ring to it. 

I used this powerful phrase to honor people in my unit and to show quick appreciation for the daily tasks that I sometimes took for granted. It didn't take me long, however, to realize the people in my unit were much more than just "great Americans." 

Great Americans are indeed all around. Great Americans, for example, support our nation's freedoms, not only those selective freedoms that benefit them individually. They pay their fair share of taxes and help the less fortunate; sometimes at an inconvenience to themselves. 

Great Americans are generally courteous on the highway; give an honest nine-to-five effort for an honest wage and come to a complete stop at a stop sign at 2 a.m. because it is "the right thing to do." 

Applying my simplified examples to military men and women, I submit they are more certainly an elite group I call "great Patriots." 

Since I was a lieutenant, I have carried a small card that puts this "great Patriot" mentality into perspective. On the back of this card is a single sentence: "For those who fight for it, freedom has a special flavor the protected will never know." 

Great Americans are protected; "great Patriots" do the protecting. Great Patriots have freely sworn to defend our constitution and all it stands for - both here in this nation and other parts of the world. To be ready for this challenge, great Patriots prepare and sacrifice--for the love of this nation and the gifts it bears. 

Great Patriots sacrifice daily the big things and the small; they defend our freedoms 24 hours a day--not just nine to five, not just when convenient to do so, and not to get rich. They defend when called upon to do so because they believe in what they do and they want to do it, not because they have to. 

They do it months and years on end, away from home, on holidays, birthdays and anniversaries. They work all hours of the day, in all weather and in all seasons. They do the job with limited resources and they do it brilliantly--they have to, our nation depends on them, for if not them, then whom? 

Great Patriots understand that there is a difference between being a warrior and playing war. Great Patriots don't lose focus--every task they perform contributes to our military capability and our nation's might. They pray for peace, but prepare for war. They take their training seriously and seize every opportunity to learn--from superiors, peers and subordinates. 

They never stop learning. They stand proudly at attention, salute our flag and remember all things that make this nation great--not perfect, but great. 

As military people we can choose to be great Americans or great Patriots. Which one are you? Which one do you aspire to be? Which one are you prepared to be?