2 Commissionings: UNC NROTC and Duke NROTC

Wednesday, May 25th, 2011

I love living in North Carolina as it reminds me of the qualify of life that many Germans enjoy. While living and working in Southern Germany those many years before the Internet, like 3, I admired the balance in the lives of many of my colleagues. They would often bicycle or walk to work – option 2 was the bus with option 3 being one of their fine, high performance cars (mainly Passats and Audis with fewer BMWs and almost never saw a Porsche in the company lot) – and work they would. No goofing off between 8am and 4pm, 2:30 on Fridays in summer. Not only was there no discussion of popular culture in the workplace, the young engineers and the younger secretaries (not a forbidden term in Deutschland) referred to each other by proper name, e.g. Mr. Bauer and Miss Bine! We worked in a facility that designed and produced cutting tools for machines that made engines for Mercedes and BMW. These tools were nearly 2 to 3 times more precise than ones built elsewhere in the world explaining, perhaps, the performance of your BMW. I also observed the Mercedes reaction to the introduction of the Lexus brand which was to purchase Chrysler demonstrating clearly that engineers belong in machine shops and not in the marketing department.

Our factory sat nicely amidst the wine country, well away from the vineyards of Libefraumilch and Schwarze Katze, with the wafting smells of the nearby farms. Without air conditioning, open windows connect factory to farm. Not 100{915b2618a7c304f461205894c34b2284541042d3c677679407e2f30838792dcd} aromatic, but pretty good on most days. When the bell sounded at 4pm, the factory and the offices cleared with many employees of all levels heading to their gardens and vineyards. Only where lovely weather is scarce is lovely weather revered. Automotive engineering on the slopes of wine producing fields, walking home after work, beer gardens at night – which welcome the entire family- develop a well-balanced life of interconnection amongst people and their surroundings. This description is not intended to start a repatriation movement to the Old Country as there is much in Germany life that only a German can accommodate. I saw the benefit to the individual of a lifestyle of interconnection between people, places and nature. As a result, I realize these many years later that Germans are able to answer the question, “What does it mean to be German?” in ways that I feel is not so easy for us in America at present.

Our local Naval Academy Alumni Association sponsors two leadership awards for the RTP’s Naval ROTC program. The presence of the military is by necessity so small at Duke, UNC and NC State that they are managed by one senior officer and staff. For example, Duke commissioned four ensigns; UNC commissioned 9 ensigns and Marine lieutenants; NC State’s commissioning class is as large that these two together but not large. Impressive to me about this ceremony is the sudden gravity of a moment within the occasion. There is plenty of circumstance at the beginning with uniforms and gloves and medals and veterans. Parents and siblings are dressed as best as they can with respect to the weather and their presumption of the appearance for the occasion. In short, you see everything from flip-flops to formal attire. Everyone knows that something different, even important is going on or going to happen, we’re just not sure what. Like all graduation-like ceremonies, older people speak of the marvelous opportunities and challenges awaiting the younger people; important looking and acting people describe the deeds of supposedly famous people gone by; the moment is both proper and light-hearted. Of course, the young men and women (women outnumbered the men in total including two females headed for submarine service) could only see the final moments of their time-consuming, parallel lives as midshipmen. The freedom of the adult world was only a speech or two and a raised right hand away. These six commissionings later, I realize that no one is quite prepared for the defining moment of the ceremony. This is the moment when the senior in college, the midshipman in the NROTC program is asked to raise his or her right hand and to repeat the Uniformed Services Oath of Office … “support and defend… bear true faith and allegiance… well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office….” Moments and people are transformed at this expression. The audience does not tire hearing these words spoken as each commissioning officer is sworn-in. Preciously, several are led in the oath by family members including fathers, mothers, grandfathers and friends. At this precise interval, each is no longer who they were. And everyone recognizes this.

The ceremony continues for another 45 minutes as the new officers are photographed, received their first salutes and mingle with friends and family. It’s a series of photo-ops, for sure, and I sensed that we linger as we do so that we can hang-on to this precious affair just a bit longer before re-joining our own worlds.