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I’m sitting in a hotel room in Washington, D.C., as I write this. Screen Shot 2016-02-27 at 8.59.56 AMHere for my cousin, Brigadier General J.B. Burton’s, military retirement, I watched as his 31 year career with the Army was honored. He has had 18 posts, and 9 deployments, including command of Dagger Brigade 1st Infantry Division, and the 20th CBRNE, the Army’s premier command combating the threats from chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, and explosives. His wife, Cathy, and son, Austin, have moved and moved and moved, she being tireless in her efforts to support the military families of the thousands of troops under his command, and he having grown up often separated from his dad.

The ceremony was held at Fort Myer, which is surrounded by Arlington National Cemetery, and the U.S. Marine Corps War Memorial, and those of us in attendance overlooked a field formation of the U.S. Army Band, Elements of the Old Guard including Bravo Company, Hotel Company, Honor Guard Company, and the Commander and Chief’s Guard, and, finally, the U.S. Army Old Guard Fife and Drum Corps. Resplendent in dress uniform and precise in every move, they honored my cousin and their country. We were instructed to do the same, standing not only for the National Anthem, but every time the U.S. Flag was advanced.

It was one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen. I sat there in the nation’s capitol, in the very heart of memorial, after memorial, the ground literally enriched by those who’ve given their life for it. It was a spectacular reminder to me, especially in this disheartening season of election madness, that we are still America. There are those, every single day, who are sacrificing their lives for us, whether in death, or in life, families fractured by deployment and riddled with the constant cloud of worry.

They choose to do it so we can freely speak our minds, worship when and where we want, defend our families and our property, be entrepreneurs, and raise and educate our children any way we see fit. They guard and defend and give the last full measure if called to do it so we can cast our vote for those whom we’d have govern. They are patriots, my cousin, and all those men and women in uniform…all their families.

Are we, I wonder? For we, too, are Americans. A patriot is one who vigorously defends their country and stands ready to defend it, and while we are not all physically deployed to defend in combat, are we defending with our words and actions, standing together to preserve the integrity of the red, white and blue fabric woven by our forefathers?

If we are not careful – really, REALLY,¬† careful – we won’t be standing for every advancement of the flag, but staring at its shredded fabric, wistful for what once was.

I’m so, so proud of you, J.B. (you will always be Bart to me!). You are a great American, a wonderful cousin, and a dear friend. You are a patriot in the truest sense of the word, and you, along with all those in uniform, inspire me to greater patriotism, too. May we all follow your example to protect and defend the stars and stripes in every way we can.

Long may she wave.