Sunday, December 17, 2017

Who Fights Our Wars: Sons of Veterans

Myles B. Caggins, III, promoted today to Colonel

Today, I heard one of the best speeches of a man honored in his profession that I heard in years, maybe ever. 

Two kinds of people make acceptance speeches for honors and high awards.  One thanks everyone who helped and guided the awardee to the honor they just received. These speeches can sometimes be overly long and not finish well.  Today's speech was the right length and finished on a surprising and passionate note.

The other kind of speech I have often heard is the one that says it was all me.  Today's speech was definitely not that kind.

This afternoon, Myles B. Caggins, III, was promoted to Colonel on the top floor of the National Press Club. Caggins is an ROTC graduate of Hampton University in his 21st year of military service and way ahead of the average trajectory to achieve the highest rank below general officer. 

He could very well have talked about leading a company in the invasion of Iraq in 2003 as a young captain in command of a support company.  He could have talked about switching to Public Affairs then serving as the Public Affairs officer for 4th Brigade, 1st Armored Division in Iraq where we met in in 2009.  Or his subsequent service in the Pentagon and on the National Security Counsel in the Obama White House. 

But he didn’t talk about what he did.  He talked about what others did for him and how they put him where he is today.

When Caggins mentioned his combat command in Iraq, he introduced a staff sergeant who was one of his troop leaders. Caggins said this sergeant "Kept me straight."  

When Caggins talked about his various public affairs assignments from Camp Adder, Iraq, to the Pentagon, to the White House, he introduced soldiers he served with at each of those places.   

He then introduced his parents, Myles and Ann, and the rest of his family. His father is also a Colonel: Myles B. Caggins, Jr., retired and a combat veteran of the Vietnam War.  Caggins introduced his sister’s family and other close relatives.  He then introduced his Hampton University ROTC classmates and other friends including a major he is mentoring who served as master of ceremonies. 

After all that warmth and honor for people throughout his life, Caggins ended his speech with a passionate account of the struggle his father faced 50 years ago as a young officer in the U.S. Army. With his voice breaking slightly with emotion, Caggins repeated part of the oath he just swore in front of all of us to “Support and defend the constitution of the United States against all enemies foreign and domestic.”

Then Caggins talked about the world his father served in as a young officer in the 1960s Army, an Army with bigots who would walk across the street or duck in a doorway to avoid saluting an officer who was not white. His words painted a picture of the struggle Black officers faced before Civil Rights became the law of the land and Jim Crow was abolished.

“My Dad and his generation served an America which did not serve them, when they were not allowed to vote in free and fair elections,” Caggins said. “I couldn’t do it, but he did.” 

Caggins closed by saying this may be the last time he is promoted in the Army, but for as long he serves he will, “Use these wings (colonels wear eagles) to help others soar.”

When his talked ended, he received a standing ovation from an audience that filled the ballroom and the balcony.  

This year Caggins is a National Security Fellow at Harvard University’sKennedy School of Government.   

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