May 27, 2011 Print
Retired Col. Bill Spencer

Friday Five: Retired Col. Bill Spencer on Memorial Day, Military Policies

by Jennifer Mesko

Retired Col. Bill Spencer spent nearly 29 years on active duty as a command pilot flying reconnaissance jets as well as in other command and staff positions, including a tour as publisher and editor of the professional journal of the U.S. Air Force.

Now, Spencer spends his time across the highway from the Air Force Academy — at the Focus on the Family offices. He works with 36 state-based family policy councils, in board relations and strategic planning. He also teaches graduate classes at the Colorado Springs branch of Colorado Christian University.

He said his latest promotion was to grandfather.

CitizenLink asked Spencer to dig deeper into a variety of military-related topics.

1. For many of us, Memorial Day means a day off of work. What’s the true significance?

Memorial Day has been around since the years immediately following the Civil War. In preparation for that first observance in 1868, flowers were placed on the graves of both Union and Confederate soldiers.  So Memorial Day has and always will unify all Americans — regardless of background — to pay tribute to those who have given the last full measure of devotion for their country. For me and our family, we will continue to remember my uncle and namesake, 1st Lt. Willie Condrey White, U.S. Army, who was killed in action in World War II.

The day off dates back to the National Holiday Act of 1971, when Congress established three-day weekends in conjunction with federal holidays.

2. Didn’t Congress repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” last year? Why do we keep seeing it in the news?

In December’s lame-duck session, by the narrowest of margins, the 111th Congress removed the restrictions to homosexual individuals serving openly in the ranks, commonly referred to as “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” Part of that bill required the president and the Pentagon leadership to certify that repeal implementation wouldn’t harm the Armed Forces. That certification hasn’t happened, and training given to the troops has revealed some implementation issues with which the Congress, the Pentagon and the president are grappling.

The current debate concerns at least two key questions: How many service members will leave over this issue? And will chaplains be able to hold to their deeply held religious beliefs?

3. There have been a lot of headlines about the Navy and weddings. Can you explain what’s going on?

Whether he just “wanted to please” or had another agenda, the chief of Navy chaplains recently proposed a policy change that would allow same-sex marriage ceremonies in Navy chapels once the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is certified.

Of course, this is in violation of the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), and 62 members of Congress wrote him a letter encouraging him to reconsider — which, to his credit, he did.  When I was on active duty, we used to refer to this as “getting out in front of your headlights” and being run over by your own pronouncements. Not good.

4. Since bin Laden has been killed, does that mean the U.S. will leave Afghanistan and Iraq?

Oh, if that only were the case. From a military strategic perspective, bin Laden represented something we call a strategic “center of gravity” or something from which a force derives its freedom of action, physical strength or will to fight. In the war on terror, he was a center of gravity to be sure, but not the only one.

We know what we want the world to look like post-war, and it’s always better to fight terror at its source and off of our shores.

5. What is your message to the men and women of the Armed Forces?

When you and I entered the Armed Forces, we wrote out a check payable to the United States of America, in the amount of our very lives, and handed it to our country. For those of us reading this, that check hasn’t been cashed. But we all know of those whose checks were cashed, and we honor them on this Memorial Day.

Years from now, there will come a time when you look back on your years of military service — as I do now — and realize that there is no higher calling than being part of a cause that is just and greater than yourself. There are just causes to be sure, and causes bigger than yourselves once you leave the military ranks, but nothing replaces the camaraderie of defending your nation no matter the circumstances. But to lay down your life for your friends? To have your “check cashed”? That, my brothers and sisters in the profession of arms, is the very definition of “no greater love.” To them and to you, I join with a grateful nation to extend my heartfelt thanks.

Learn more about Family Policy Councils.