An Oath that Never Expires
By David Daly
In the United States, when someone chooses to serve in the military, their first official act as a service member is to raise their right hand and say, "I, [name], 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, that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion, and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter. So help me God."
What may not be immediately apparent is the lack of the word "until." Vacant of an expiration date, that is to say, that the oath is one taken for life. While on active duty, a service member's promise to honorably uphold their commitment is, in one way or another, tested every day. Occasionally, the test happens after a service member leaves the military. The heightened tensions of 2020's political and social turmoil presented one veteran with just such a moment.
Last year was a difficult time for our nation. The global pandemic and remarkably polarized presidential election were fertile breeding grounds for disagreement and turmoil. The multitude of injustices galvanized many to speak out against the horrors of police brutality and racial injustice. For many citizens, peaceful protest exemplified their support for the oppressed.
Duston Obermeyer graduated from the United States Naval Academy in May 2001. He deployed three times, once as a pilot and twice as a Communications Officer, before leaving active service in October of 2011.
Portland, Oregon's protests would become the scene for the former Marine Corps officer and numerous other veterans to have their oath of office tested. As a resident of the Portland/Salem area, Duston had a front-row seat to what most Americans watched on the nightly news and social media.
When asked to describe what it was like living there at the time, he says, "In a few keywords, it was scary, confusing, frustrating, and unbelievable. The 'unbelievable' was a key reason why I ended up at my first ever protest that night." Obermeyer attended the protests outside the Hatfield Courthouse on July 18th, 2020. Many who knew Duston lived in the area began to inquire about whether or not what they saw on the news was really happening.
Footage of American citizens being dragged off the street and taken away in unmarked cars was an alarming sight to see. Duston thought to himself, "That is not the America I grew up in, nor the one I fought for. The media was so confusing and there were so many conflicting reports that I felt it was my duty to go and observe as an unbiased party."
Once he arrived outside the courthouse, he witnessed federal officers shooting tear gas into a crowd without warning. He then saw a woman thrown to the ground with enough force that she slid across the pavement.
Though Duston did not know it at the time, fellow veteran and service academy graduate Chris David was also there for many of the same reasons as Obermeyer. As federal officers continued their abuses of the crowd, Chris questioned whether the officers understood or even remembered their office oath. Asking them directly, the officers did not reply.
It was then that Obermeyer repeated David's question and asked if the officers understood what an 'illegal order' was. Recalling the moment, Duston says, "The situation leading up to that was important. The protest was peaceful, and it was winding down when federal officers/contractors emerged and attacked a group of unarmed protesters without any provocation that I could observe."
He continues by saying, "I approached the squad/platoon of officers and asked if they understood what an 'illegal order' was because I had just observed them executing one during that attack of peaceful protesters who were literally asking over a bull horn, "What are we doing wrong?"
Following their questions, an officer struck Chris with a baton and tried to hit Duston. Several officers converged on their position. Obermeyer was struck in the face and chest with a baton. He was also shot in the face at point-blank range with an orange chemical irritant that took several days to recover from. His story made headlines across the nation.
I then ask Duston why Constitutional rights were so important to him? He responded, "Any elected or appointed official or officer takes an oath to the Constitution of the United States of America. That oath does not expire and does not change. We took the oath on July 1st, 1997 and many times after that. I keep my promises."
As tensions in Portland and the rest of the nation calmed to a simmer, Duston and Chris founded an organization called Wall of Vets, whose mission states, "As veterans, we swore an Oath to defend the US Constitution and fundamental rights therein. We continue our service to protect these rights, and promote justice and equality through non-partisan, non-violent means. We are the Wall of Vets. 'Our Oath Never Expires'"
Since the protest, Duston focuses on his family, including his wife, 15-year-old son, two dogs, four cats, and 45 plus chickens. He spends his days helping veterans find homes in the Portland/Salem, Oregon area. To the readers of Derailed Magazine, Duston would like to say the following, "As long as Veterans are a part of American Society there will always be a defender of the constitutional values that made this country great." Semper Fi Duston. Thank you and all veterans who've never forgotten the importance of keeping the oath of office, even after the commitment to service ends.