Really proud to be an American

PATRICK AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. -- We live in the best country on the planet. How do I know this? It's more than just a hunch.

Over the past five weeks, I had the distinct honor and privilege to attend a joint professional military education program known as CAPSTONE. The course is designed for 1-star generals and admirals from all service components, and the education is priceless. In my class, CAPSTONE 14-03, we had approximately 50 students from the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and Coast Guard.

We began the course with some high level speakers from Washington, D.C., to include the Commander of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Army General Martin E. Dempsey, Richard Lee Armitage, who served as the 13th United States Deputy Secretary of State from 2001 to 2005, and Newt Gingrich, who served as the 58th Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives from 1995 to 1999.

We were briefed by every service chief and every combatant commander.

We focused on the current state of our Nation - over 12 years of war, dwindling budgets and smaller force sizes, and the threats against the United States: the threat of terrorism, a nuclear North Korea, and the growing attachment of terrorist groups with trans-national criminal networks.

We debated the future - Afghanistan, Russia, and specifically, the "re-balance" to the Pacific region, and what this means for our interests in the rest of the world.

Then we visited all of the combatant commands such as CENTCOM in Tampa, SOUTHCOM in Miami, NORTHCOM, TRANSCOM, and STRATCOM. I was lucky enough to go on a trip to the Pacific ... to Jakarta, Indonesia; Saigon and Hanoi, Viet Nam, and Beijing, China.

The trip was one of a life-time, and I came away thinking more broadly about our Nation and the challenges we face. But even more - I wanted to kiss the ground once we landed back in the United States of America.

Why? Because I'm so proud to be an American. Really!

We live in the greatest Nation there is. We are a free people. We think and do and say ... whatever we want to. I continually saw people around the world muzzled, where their world is controlled ... even contrived.

And so, out of sincere respect and thanks for our values, our spirit of good will, and our ability to speak our minds without the threat of government retribution - on this Memorial Day - I thank all our Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Coast Guardsmen, and Marines, past and present, for protecting and defending the most bountiful Nation on earth.

God Bless the United States of America.

Prouder than ever to be your commander!