William Bradford, governor of the Plymouth Colony, was born in 1590 in a small farming town in England. Tragically, his father died when he was only one year old. His mother, Alice, then raised him until he was four, when she remarried and sent him to live with his grandfather. But his grandfather died when William was only six. Further tragedy hit when his mother died only one year later. So he was then sent to live with two uncles.
At 18, William fled England’s religious persecution with other Separatists, arriving in Amsterdam in 1608. In 1609, he moved with his Puritan church to Holland, where he resided for the next 11 years. He was a silk weaver by trade.
In 1620, at 30 years old, William and his wife, Dorothy, sold their house and joined the Mayflower expedition and sailed for America. Tragically, after enduring the difficult crossing of the Atlantic, and while the ship was anchored at Cape Cod and the men were exploring on land, Dorothy fell overboard and drowned.
As he had done repeatedly throughout his life, William endured through the loss of his wife, only to have to face with the other pilgrims one of the harshest years of their lives, during which only half of them survived. Bradford himself got sick and wasn’t expected to live, but recovered.
In 1621, Bradford was elected second governor of Plymouth, and, because of his superior leadership and ability to endure, he was re-elected nearly every year thereafter. His duties included managing the colony’s finances, communicating with investors and neighbors, overseeing the courts, formulating policy and law, etc. Many of his letters, poems and writings survive to this day.
One thing that has made America great is its long lineage of valiant leaders in every generation. These are the type of men and women about whom our sixth president, John Quincy Adams, described, “If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.”
One more extraordinary example of that type of leadership can be found in my friend and the new commandant of the Marines Corps, Gen. James Amos. After being recommended by Defense Secretary Robert Gates in June and endorsed by President Obama in July, my wife, Gena, and I (among many others around the world) were thrilled to hear he was appointed on Oct. 22, 2010.
In 2007, I visited our troops at 15 bases in Iraq with then three-star Lt. Gen. James Amos and four-star Gen. Bob Magnus – something that was reported in Stars and Stripes and about which I wrote a whole column.
Amos, 63, is a proven and stalwart leader, on and off the battlefield. His credentials, awards and military experience are extensive, starting back as a naval aviator in 1971 and his tours flown in the F-4 Phantom. In 1985, then Lt. Col. Amos assumed command of Marine Air Base Squadron 24 and later assumed command of VMFA-312, joining Carrier Air Wing Eight on board the USS Theodore Roosevelt. In 1996, Gen. Amos took command of Marine Aircraft Group 31. And, in 1998, he was promoted to brigadier general and served to NATO as deputy commander, Naval Striking Forces, Southern Europe. He was also U.S. deputy commanding general, Fleet Marine Force, Europe, at Naples, Italy, during which he served as chief of staff during the air campaign over Yugoslavia. In 2000, he was assistant deputy commandant for aviation at the Pentagon. In 2002, he assumed command of the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing in Operation Iraqi Freedom. From 2004-2006, Amos was commanding general of the II Marine Expeditionary Force. From August 2006 to July 2008, Amos served as commanding general, Marine Corps Combat Development Command, and deputy commandant for combat development and integration. And also in 2008, Amos became the 31st assistant commandant of the Marine Corps.
According to the Washington Post, military officials say that Amos is an innovative thinker about future combat and a passionate advocate for finding additional resources to treat Marines diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury. To boot, Amos is a man of great faith in God. And he’s now the first Marine commandant with a background as a naval aviator. (In choosing Amos, Defense Secretary Gates passed over Gen. James N. Mattis, who is one of the military’s best minds regarding waging war on insurgents.)
Before Gen. Amos was appointed to his new post as head of the Marines, however, he weathered a rather unique vetting period.
Amos’ poise and leadership was vividly on display for the country and world to see, when he was grilled by members of the Senate Armed Services Committee for an hour in a hearing in which the questioning was almost exclusively about gays in the military. Sadly, Washington seems more concerned with political correctness than asking Amos about what unique contributions his leadership would bring or how he would manage Afghanistan warfare, strategies and success. Yet, all of Amos’s responses were sympathetic yet solemn about military compliance, troop camaraderie and combat effectiveness.
Amos was again on the hot seat when he spoke recently with reporters during a Southern California visit to mark the Marines’ 235th birthday. With American troops on the battlegrounds in Afghanistan and still deployed in Iraq, Gen. Amos said now is not the time to overturn the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy prohibiting gays from openly serving in the military.
Amos explained, “This is not a social thing. This is combat effectiveness. … There’s risk involved. I’m trying to determine how to measure that risk … laying out, sleeping alongside of one another and sharing death, fear and loss of brothers. I don’t know what the effect of that will be on cohesion. I mean, that’s what we’re looking at. It’s unit cohesion; it’s combat effectiveness.”
It takes guts, conviction, selflessness and true concern to reply like that, especially when you’ve been newly appointed to a position, are addressing hot bed issues and disagree with both the Defense Secretary and the commander-in-chief! Quite frankly, Amos’ public dissent against the White House took Defense Secretary Gates somewhat by surprise, because he wanted to keep opposing opinions private. But when capping public dissent buries personal conviction and troop welfare, free speech is muzzled and morals are compromised. As Gates and Obama even know, one sign of good leadership is the ability to agree to disagree agreeably with your superiors (even publicly) and yet rally unity and press forward together.
I applaud Gen. Amos for being a man of integrity and conviction. He deserves the accolades of military personnel and all citizens alike. Americans should feel proud and safer to have him serving as the commandant of the Marines. If we had more leaders like him in this world, we wouldn’t be in half the hurt that we are. In fact, as an Air Force vet and honorary Marine, I say with millions of others, “Ooh-rah!”
I know you’d join me in giving thanks this Thanksgiving for leaders like Gen. Amos and all the rest of our service men and women around the world. It is their service and sacrifice that allow us the freedom to enjoy the peace and prosperity of our festive turkey day.
Lastly, with gratefulness in our hearts, I’d encourage and challenge Americans everywhere to once again heed the call of William Bradford, governor of the Plymouth Colony, in 1623, who admonished: “Inasmuch as the great Father has given us this year an abundant harvest of Indian corn, wheat, beans, squashes, and garden vegetables, and has made the forests to abound with game and the sea with fish and clams, and inasmuch as He has protected us from the ravages of the savages, has spared us from pestilence and disease, has granted us freedom to worship God according to the dictates of our own conscience; now, I, your magistrate, do proclaim that all ye Pilgrims, with your wives and little ones, do gather at ye meeting house, on ye hill, between the hours of 9 and 12 in the day time, on Thursday, November ye 29th of the year of our Lord one thousand six hundred and twenty-three, and the third year since ye Pilgrims landed on ye Pilgrim Rock, there to listen to ye pastor, and render thanksgiving to ye Almighty God for all His blessings.”
God bless the legacy of William Bradford! God bless Gen. James Amos and all of our military leadership! God bless all of our service men and women! And God bless the United States of America!
(Please make sure to support our military personnel this holiday season by sending some form of encouragement to our troops, whether it’s participating in a Christmas care package through Give2TheTroops.com, the deadline for which is Dec. 1, or a word of encouragement by sending a free Christmas card sent via LetsSayThanks.com. Mostly, please be careful as you travel during this busy holiday season. On Feb. 11, 2006, I was honored to meet a Marine by the name of Cpl David Stidman, who did two tours in Iraq and one in Afghanistan, only to return home and tragically be hit and killed by a drunk driver on Aug. 2, 2010. Please join David’s father, Dwayne Stidman, in his quest to crack down on drunk drivers at www.davidstidman.com. Our troops are willing to sacrifice their lives on foreign territory – the least we can do when they come home is keep them safe on American soil.)