Reenlistment is one of the most long-time honored traditions in the military. Dating back to the Revolutionary War, it’s still held in high regards to our military history. But, just what is the history of military reenlistment? How did it start, and when exactly did it come about? Were people always able to reenlist or did they stay indefinitely in service? It’s actually a rather interesting tale.
It was on the 14th of June of the year 1775 when Congress voted on the first oath for the Continental Army. The Oath of Enlistment read as follows:
I _____ have, this day, voluntarily enlisted myself, as a soldier, in the American continental army, for one year, unless sooner discharged: And I do bind myself to conform, in all instances, to such rules and regulations, as are, or shall be, established for the government of the said Army.
Before then, there was no established manner in which to continue serving in the military. I presume most militiamen did not have a specific way of simply staying in or celebrating the occasion (they would simply remain in service (or there was no service and conscription was the norm). But, many of our traditions do come from the British military, and as such I’m inclined to believe that we followed those). Yet, it’s interesting to note at what time in American history the Oath of Enlistment was born.
It was nearly two months after the beginning of the war when they instituted the oath, and it was later changed thanks to a replacement in the wording. The Articles of War had an amendment or replacement in Article 1 of Section 3 that provided a different wording for it. The new oath of enlistment would now read as:
I _____ swear (or affirm as the case may be) to be trued to the United States of America, and to serve them honestly and faithfully against all their enemies opposers whatsoever; and to observe and obey the orders of the Continental Congress, and the orders of the Generals and officers set over me by them.
The first Oath of Reenlistment
However, under the Constitution, the first oath of reenlistment that was approved was done on the 29th of September of 1789. It took an Act of Congress to do so, and it was in Chapter 25 of Section 3 of the 1st Congress. This oath would apply to all service members including the officers, non-commissioned officers, and junior personnel in the service of the United States Armed Forces. Interestingly enough, this change came in two different parts.
The first part read as follows:
I, _______do solemnly swear or affirm that I will support the constitution of the United States.
The second part of the oath would be:
I, ______ do solemnly swear or affirm to bear true allegiance to the United States of America, and to serve them honestly and faithfully, against all their enemies or opposers whatsoever, and to observe and obey the orders of the President of the United States of America, and the orders of the officers appointed over me.”
The following section of chapter 25 specified on how the troops would be governed. It mentions that the troops will be governed by rules and articles of war that are established by Congress and any future laws that may apply. Yet, nearly 200 years after that last change, the Oath of Enlistment would undergo one final change.
In 1960, an amendment on Title 10 was drafted. The change would officially be implemented in 1962, and it made the oath read as follows:
I, (______________), do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God.
Currently, we’re still using the last Oath of Enlistment that was created. Servicemen everywhere in the United States who want to reenlist to make a career out of their service will remember these words very closely. For some of us, it’s a sacrifice of another two to six years for a chance at a nice pension. But, for others it runs much deeper than that, a military family, a history of tradition, and a chance to follow in the footsteps of their forefathers is the reason for their reenlistment. These days, though many members don’t know the history of the oath and as it’s not something that is taught in Boot-camp.
But, just because it’s not taught during Basic Recruit Training, it does not mean we can forget our military roots. Not all traditions have a place in the military these days, but reenlistment will always continue to be relevant. As such, it’s always held in high esteem by higher-ups in the military. But, recently members have taken to having funny reenlistment ceremonies, which is a nice change of pace. It’s a sacrifice of so many years, but it doesn’t mean it can’t have a few laughs… unfortunately sometimes the jokes can go too far as is the case with the Air Force Reenlistment that cost the careers of three members.
The Oath of Enlistment was cited from – https://history.army.mil/html/faq/oaths.html
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