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When you join the Navy — Active or Reserve — you are not just joining a military force. You become part of a proud tradition of core values, bravery, duty and integrity that began as far back as 1775. While ships, equipment and technology change, many customs remain the same. Including the bedrock the Navy was founded on: honor, courage and commitment.
Customs and traditions build a bridge between young and old, past and present. They reflect positively on the Sailor, the Navy and the country they serve. To be part of something that's bigger than yourself is something you must experience to understand. But it's something you'll never forget: The camaraderie, pride, self-confidence, self-awareness and sense of purpose will last beyond your service.
Something changes in a person when they put on a uniform. They stand a little straighter. They carry themselves with more confidence. Uniforms serve many purposes. They can help Enlisted Sailors and Officers easily identify one another at a glance. In formal dress, Navy uniforms are some of the most striking and recognizable symbols of honor and tradition in the world. Whether in the blues, khakis or service dress whites, those who wear a Navy uniform wear it with pride.
One look at a cap, sleeve or chest can tell you a great deal about the role an Officer or Enlisted serves in the Navy. Every symbol on these various badges and insignias each has its their rightful place in Navy lore. The Navy's colors themselves have special meaning: Blue represents the ocean and seas; gold is the color of integrity and valor.
Few songs have the legacy of the United States Navy Hymn. The Rev. William Whiting originally wrote the Navy Hymn in 1860 after surviving a furious storm on the English coast. Inspired by the mighty force that nature can heap upon the sea, Rev. Whiting penned the ode, “Eternal Father, Strong to Save.”
One year later, the hymn was set to music. The first verse would soon be sung at the conclusion of each Sunday’s Divine Services at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis — a practice that began in 1879 and continues today.
The words were changed several times over the years to reflect cultural shifts and changes in our society. It was the favorite hymn of President Franklin D. Roosevelt and was sung at his funeral. It also played as President John F. Kennedy’s body was carried up the steps of the capitol to lie in state. Both presidents served in the Navy. Today, “Eternal Father, Strong to Save” is used at funerals for those who served or were associated with the Navy.
Every sailor — Enlisted or Commissioned — knows The Sailor's Creed. It's the mantra that best outlines the Navy's core values:
"I am a United States Sailor. I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States of America and I will obey the orders of those appointed over me. I represent the fighting spirit of the Navy and those who have gone before me to defend freedom and democracy around the world. I proudly serve my country's Navy combat team with Honor, Courage and Commitment. I am committed to excellence and the fair treatment of all."
For Officers, from Annapolis to Officer Candidate School, every change of rank is accompanied by the following oath:
"I, (your full name), having been appointed an officer in the Navy of the United States, as indicated above in the grade of _____ do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign or domestic, that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservations or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office upon which I am about to enter; So help me God."
There are many words and phrases in the English language that can trace their roots to nautical and, in some cases, to actual naval origins. Check out some of these Navy terms and their meanings.
Beyond the general words and phrases that are part of nautical and naval culture, there are also many standard commands and orders that are routinely used in the Navy. Familiarize yourself with some of the more common commands and orders.
The Navy is full of many more traditions, many rooted in the deeds it has performed in the service of our country. Other traditions date back to older navies and sailing traditions. Including the watch, an old maritime custom that is still valid in this day and age of advanced radar and sonar detection.
From enlistment to training camp to commissioning or decommissioning a vessel to retirement, the Navy has a custom for each ceremony. And the Navy certainly will add more and more traditions and customs. It is a living history, and more great deeds will lead to more great customs, such as the Navy Ethos.