For many months, a group of Alexandria citizens have been working with officials at Mount Vernon Estate to create a run that celebrates patriotism at the George Washington Patriot Run (10/5k). There is no more fitting location and patriotic symbol than at the home of one of our Nation’s greatest patriots, Gen. George Washington. Also significant is the date selected as 9-11-16; 15 years after the most significant terrorist attack on American soil. During the planning, I’ve had the opportunity to reflect about who we call “patriots” and what it means to be “patriotic.”
In October, 2001 Congress enacted Sept. 11 as “Patriot Day” as a National Day of Service and Remembrance of the 2,977 individuals killed during the terrorist attack that year. Fifteen years later, our nation continues commemorating this day with a variety of events and activities that focus on “service” and “remembrance.” Through events such as ceremonies, wreath-laying, service projects and sporting and social events, we come together as communities to remember, but also heal from the attacks on 9-11-01 and the wars that followed.
As a former Army officer who spent a career in the military, I had a narrow view of who patriots were. In most cases, I believed them to be folks like me, serving in the military or firefighters, police officers or first responders. Essentially, those who had committed to defending the Constitution or providing security and safety for our citizens. As I’ve matured, I’m come to realize that my definition was incomplete and inaccurate. I now know that each of us can (and should) be patriots regardless of occupation. I now understand that while “veteran” and “patriot” are not synonymous, “citizen” and “patriot” could be. I think it comes down to intent and choice.
So how do each of us become patriots? First of all, there is no aptitude test for patriotism. You don’t take a physical fitness test or shoot a weapon to be one. No enlistment, no contract and no uniform required. What is required is a strong commitment to the values that our nation was founded on: freedom, liberty and justice for all. Patriots don’t have to believe that the U.S. is perfect, but they do have to do their part to make their communities and our nation a better place. Patriots can be critical of their governments and policies, but they also help to find solutions that improve life for citizens. In essence, being a patriot is about intent and action. I now believe that every citizen has the right and indeed a responsibility to be a patriot.
On Sept. 11, as with every day of the year, each of us has a choice about how we will live our lives and how we will be remembered. Like Gen. George Washington and millions of citizens before us, through our words and deeds, let us choose to be patriots.
To join more than 1,800 fellow patriots for the George Washington Patriot (10/5k) Run at Mount Vernon on Sept. 11, register at www.mountvernon.org/run.