The Most Respected Institution in Our Country

Make America great again. Regardless of one’s view of the politics and personality of Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, the power of the message he captured with that slogan cannot be denied. It encapsulates the view held by a large segment of our population, if not a majority, that America has fallen precipitously during the tenure of the current president. There is a visceral concern among many of us about our country’s financial stability, our physical security, and our nation’s long-term viability. As significantly, there is an inchoate sense that the people running our government are not similarly concerned about these issues, are hopelessly inept, and inexplicably implement policies that seem to exacerbate rather than lessen these concerns. A porous Southwest border, non-enforcement of our immigration laws, a Refugee Resettlement Program seemingly designed to import people from the jihadist nightmare of the Middle East with no possible hope of vetting them, deficit spending as far as the eye can see -- all odd policies in light of the low-level terror that keeps many of us awake at night. Add to that mass killings by domestic jihadists and ambush assassinations of our police officers, and we ask ourselves, “What is going on?”

But another Election Day will be upon us in a few months, so now is our opportunity to right the ship. Many see two choices. Those on the left (along with some on the right) see a seemingly very successful businessman, but one with no governing experience, who is given to rash, sometimes bizarre, utterances, and undefined policy prescriptions as the Republican option. Those on the right see the Democratic choice as a woman who was essentially indicted -- without actually being indicted -- because she and her aides were “extremely careless in their handling of very sensitive, highly classified information,” according to the director of the FBI. And that is not to mention the payments made to Mrs. Clinton and her husband in the form of huge “speaking fees” and contributions to the Clintons’ foundation by companies and countries that stood to benefit from decisions made by our State Department while Mrs. Clinton was at its helm. We won’t even consider the sketchy cattle futures transactions, dubious real estate deals in Arkansas, mysteriously disappearing, and then reappearing, law firm billing records and so on. The Clinton pair has been mired in scandal since they came on the political scene over 25 years ago.

An extraordinarily high percentage of the populace -- fully a quarter -- say they would be afraid if either Mr. Trump or Mrs. Clinton wins the presidency, according to a recent Associated Press-GfK poll. Clearly, many people in our country need inspiration right now.

There is a place to look for that inspiration. A place, or an institution, where you can find the people who truly make America great, and have continued to do so perpetually since our nation’s founding: the United State military.

When politics and current events have you down, an excellent way to spend a day is to visit one of our nation’s service academies. There you will find highly motivated, enormously successful young men and women who have chosen to forego an easy, fun-filled life at a typical American university, and instead sought the rigors and sacrifice demanded of cadets and midshipmen.

As the very proud parent of a West Point cadet, I have had the honor and privilege of meeting many of these exceptional future military leaders. Some of their stories almost defy belief. Many were prior enlisted personnel who saw combat in Iraq and Afghanistan. Some had rocket-propelled grenades launched at them. They displayed qualities of leadership recognized by their commanding officers as befitting those potentially holding senior leadership roles in our Army and were recommended for appointment to the United State Military Academy. Some came from poverty or were abandoned by their parents, but through sheer force of will, keen intellect and perhaps the kindness of a neighbor, managed to rise above circumstances that would justifiably have relegated most of us to lives of obscurity. The opportunity to make the acquaintance of these dynamic, well-rounded, respectful young patriots would inspire the soul of even the most beleaguered American worn down by current events. Let me speak of one such patriot.

In the summer between their Plebe (freshman) and Yuk (sophomore) years, students at West Point spend a month at Camp Buckner -- a wilderness adjacent to the West Point campus -- in something called Cadet Field Training. It builds upon field training they learned a year earlier, in the summer before entering West Point, called Cadet Basic Training (or “Beast Barracks”). In CFT, these young cadets learn military tactics, are instructed in the use of various weapons, and generally strengthen their leadership skills. From my son’s recounting earlier this week, it is an exciting, exhausting adventure.

One of my son’s classmates was unable to join his CFT company this summer. This young man, Cadet Thomas Surdyke, had recently completed an Air Assault course and was due to report to CFT. He was on a short break with another cadet in Southampton, New York, enjoying the ocean on June 24. The young men had befriended a civilian that day, and while standing in the surf on a beach on Long Island, Tom and his new friend were pulled into the sea by a riptide. According to media reports, Tom went to the aid of his new friend, a non-swimmer who was struggling in the water, while the other cadet raced back up the beach to get help. Tom kept the civilian above water long enough for him to be pulled onto a paddleboard and brought safely back to shore. He survived. Sadly, Cadet Surdyke was exhausted from his exertions, submerged and ingested a great deal of seawater. Although retrieved within minutes, his heart stopped three times en route to a hospital and he slipped into a coma.  

Cadet Tom Surdyke was kept alive on life support long enough that his organs, per his wishes, could be donated to others. He was laid to rest on his birthday, July 4, at the West Point cemetery. His actions resulted in his being awarded the Soldier’s Medal, the highest non-combat award for valor in the Army. Tom’s parents, Tim and Janice Surdyke, set up a scholarship fund in Tom’s name at Pius X High School in Festus, Missouri, his alma mater.

Cadet Surdyke is that awe-inspiring example of the best our country can produce, and has consistently produced in its 225-year history. His actions in protecting a civilian are what our military has done and continues to do consistently. It is the reason that the United State military is the most respected institution in our country, according to Gallup. We have men and women like Tom Surdyke to thank for that. He and his comrades in all the branches of our armed forces are what have made America great, again and again and again.

William F. Marshall has been an intelligence analyst and investigator in the government and private sector for 30 years. Presently he is a Senior Investigator for Judicial Watch, Inc. and the father of Kyle Marshall, USMA, Class of 2019. (The views expressed are the author’s alone, and not necessarily those of Judicial Watch.)