GUEST VIEW: An annual tradition: Sen. Cornyn’s Texas service academy send-off

by U.S. Sen. John Cornyn

“Honor, respect, strength, and fortitude.”

The embodiment of what it means to be an American.

That’s how Matthew, one of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point’s newest cadets, describes his uncle, a retired Colonel who inspired him to serve in the military.

Luke P., who will report to the U.S. Naval Academy this summer, knew he wanted to join the military early – at age 7 when he met a Pearl Harbor attack survivor.

Kendall will attend the Naval Academy to honor those who came before her and to serve as representation for young women who come after her. Cherith chose to attend West Point so she could join the Army in honor of the other young African-American women who serve.

Harli’s grandfather taught her early on that “protecting your country will always be the most honorable line of work.” I agree.

Visiting the Air Force Academy for the first time to check out the baseball team, Preston was “blown away” by how impressive the cadets were. He knew immediately that’s where he wanted to be.

These are just a few of the reasons why Texas’s newest cadets and midshipmen heading to U.S. service academies – West Point, the Naval Academy, Air Force Academy, Merchant Marine Academy, and Coast Guard Academy – chose to serve. And they’re all good ones!

Consider Dylan, who wants to put others before himself and give back where he can. Or Samantha, who wants to ensure future generations can have the freedoms that we have now. Sam wants to be a part of something bigger than himself. And Luke L. wants to work with teammates he can depend on and who can likewise depend on him. If you want to feel hopeful about our nation’s future, I recommend listening to what these exemplary young Texans have to say.

It strikes me how many new servicemembers come from military families like mine. Anna will be a fourth generation member of the military. George A. will commission in honor of his family’s immigration to America and his Uncle who became a Navy SEAL following the attacks on September 11th. Ariana draws inspiration from her mother, an Airman in the Air Force, and her father, a Soldier in the Army. She’s chosen to forge her own path in a third branch, the Navy.

George G. chooses to follow the path of his grandfather and great grandfather, for whom he was named. Both earned their wings in the military, the former with the Air Force in Vietnam, and the latter with the U.S. Army Air Forces in World War II.

George G.’s inspiration to enter public service has striking similarities to mine; it’s possible my father and his great grandfather served together. Both flew B-17 missions during World War II with the U.S. Army Air Forces, and both became Prisoners of War. In fact, I was also named after my father. Life has a funny way of connecting us with each other like this – perhaps our namesakes in heaven had something to do with it.

I wish I could shake George G.’s hand, and the hands of all 326 Texans heading to service academies this summer.

In a typical year, I would. It is my favorite annual tradition to invite all Texas students about to embark on their journey at U.S. service academies to a Service Academy Send-Off Ceremony in San Antonio. More than one hundred young Texans from all across the state gather to meet their fellow cadets and midshipmen. I try to leave them with some inspiration and insight, but at the very least I like to congratulate all the students on their willingness to serve their nation and on their successful admission into highly selective and rigorous institutions.

Each year I bring along a decorated public servant to keynote the ceremony and share some targeted advice to the group. And each year, I get more inspiration from these impressive young Texans than I give.

This year, like last, the ceremony will be done virtually. But even through a screen, it will be my great privilege to congratulate Victoria, Wesley, Nadja, and the rest of the talented young Texans tuning in. With me will be special guest Lieutenant General Timothy Haugh, who leads the Air Force’s cyber warfare efforts, to share some advice.

Attendees will also hear advice from current cadets and midshipmen from Texas who have attended my send-offs in the past. They can provide invaluable advice to Texas’s newest generation of servicemembers. Catherine, a current cadet from Texas at the Air Force Academy, will tell the next class to “get comfortable being uncomfortable.” They’ll be pushed out of their comfort zone from day one – and that’s a good thing. She’ll also share how helpful it will be to find mentors in upperclassmen and teachers on campus.

This ceremony has extra meaning because of the day we will gather: Memorial Day. Particularly for Bryce and Zakary, inspired to join the military because of those who gave their life in service to this country. Never Forgotten.

May God bless our fallen servicemembers and their families, may He bless our newest servicemembers, and may He continue to bless the United States of America.

Senator John Cornyn, a Republican from Texas, is a member of the Senate Finance, Intelligence, and Judiciary Committees.