Saturday I was in Philly. In Lincoln Financial stadium, to be exact, one person in the sellout crowd of thousands cheering on their favorite--Army or Navy--in a serious yet friendly rivalry that goes back decades (one of my favorite jabs exchanged between the two rival crowds was the huge sign painted on a sheet held by West Pointers that read "Navy was my safety school...").
If you've seen that classic film "The Long Grey Line," you'll have some idea of what it looked like Saturday to see the entire brigade of thousands of West Point cadets march on to the field in unison. They are announced by companies and battalions and regiments, with their leaders names called out. The first company came, then the next and the next. And they kept coming until they filled the field.
So what's the source of the magic that makes your heart race when you witness this performance? That they march to the rousing martial music provided by their first rate marching band doesn't hurt, but there is something more.
Something about these young men and women at the prime of life, having made the decision to get their education at a military academy, embracing the concept of being groomed to lead others into battle in defense of our country, to protect our dearly held freedoms. They're gung ho and proud of it. And as you see them in their signature grey coats with the brass buttons, your heart swells with a collective pride. You can't help it. Yet for me that sense of pride was mixed with anxiety. We're a nation at war and it's likely some of these hand picked exceptional young leaders will be killed in battle before they reach their 30th birthday. Midst the pomp and circumstance and music and color, it's a sobering thought.
After the West Pointers march off the field, the spectacle moves into Phase 2: Here come the US Naval Academy's young men and women in equally distinguished uniforms (especially those white hats, which they use to impressive advantage during the game to show collective approval or comment) and the same sense of destiny in their carriage and footwork. And they were marching to an equally superior band. And their numbers were just as large.
It's impressive. Enough to make me fantasize about what if I'd seen this when I was 17? Would I have wanted to attend a service academy?. The number of women's names called out for both schools, citing them as the leaders of their company or regiment or battalion was surprisingly large. They're not tokens. They're in charge.
To top things off, right before kickoff, we were treated to the sight of a dozen sky diving soldiers and sailors (including special opps officers, a Navy SEAL and other assorted active duty members), their spiraling descent marked by flares (on their shoes?), each of whom descended directly in o the stadium and landed virtually at the crowd's feet.
Yeah, totally cool.
Their performance underscored the message that our military is trained and competent and ready for action. The collective conversation at this football game assumed that everyone supported--envied--our military personnel and wish them well. Besides a football game between rivals, it was a celebration of our country's best and brightest who have chosen to serve their country.
God bless them. We owe them lots. Part of my family's conversation over Christmas dinner will be about what we need to do to ensure these young people are given their just desserts. You might want to discuss it, too.