Several months ago I read a letter in Naval Proceedings that I thought would be perfect to talk about
today as Chief Phipps prepares to take the commissioning oath.
It was written by retired Marine Lieutenant Colonel W. C. Gregson and talked about the commissioning oath
and loyalty to the Constitution.
It started with a comparison of the officer and enlisted oaths.
Both oaths begin with the pledge to support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies,
foreign and domestic, and to bear true faith and allegiance to that same Constitution.
The enlisted oath goes on to talk about obeying orders and following regulations. The commissioning oath does
It merely amplifies the promise to support and defend the Constitution: "I take this obligation freely, without
any mental reservation or spirit of evasion..."
The two oaths are frequently confused, with officers assuming their oath requires obedience to superiors.
It does not.
Now this doesn't mean that we officers don't have to obey orders; it means our obligation to the Constitution
is greater than our obligation to our superiors, should there be a conflict between the two.
Officers cannot say, "I was only obeying orders," as justification for an unlawful act.
That defense didn't work for the Germans at the Nuremburg trials after World War II.
It didn't work for Lieutenant Calley during his court martial in 1968.
We don't know whether it would have worked for Lieutenant Colonel North and Admiral Poindexter.
This conflict between loyalty and obedience has been around for several hundred years.
In fact, the United States Supreme Court ruled in 1851 that a military officer could not plead that his unlawful
act was justified because he did it under the order of a superior officer.
Our obligation is to uphold the Constitution, at all costs.
In addition to that, we are, of course, expected to be leaders.
I don't have to tell you, Red, how to be a leader or take care of your people. I've worked with you long enough
to know you've got that well in hand.
I have very stringent standards that I expect officers to uphold. I firmly believe in our obligation to be
an example at all times for others to follow.
The mere fact that I am standing here shows I think you've got what it takes.
I'm honored that you asked me to commission you, and I'm pleased to be able to welcome you and Barbara to
the officer community.