Leader Spotlight: Emir Hadzic
As part of United Religions Initiative North America’s #TangibleHope campaign, Veterans for American Ideals is recognizing veteran leaders who are continuing their service by building unity and standing up for American values. Through a series of interviews we’re asking VFAI leaders to share more about how their service shaped them and what responsibility they feel veterans have to speak up on issues that relate to our national ideals.
Today’s interview is with Emir Hadzic, a U.S. Marine veteran who recently retired after 20 years of service. He came to the United States in 1995 as a refugee fleeing the conflict in Bosnia.
This interview has been edited for length.
Tell me about your military service.
I joined the Marine Corps in 1996, about a year after I immigrated to the United States. I joined out of a sense of obligation and gratitude to the people of the United States who welcomed us Bosnian refugees with open arms and a warm embrace. U.S. military personnel were deploying to my native country as part of the peace implementation force, risking their life or limbs. I couldn’t sit idle or have a good time in California while they were at risk. So I signed up.
I chose the Marine Corps because of its mission: the nation’s force-in-readiness. Unfortunately, the School of Infantry found that my service in Hawaii was more pressing than in the Balkans. In retrospect, it was a good experience. I never would have learned so much about the different cultures and peoples of the Pacific Rim and East Asia. After two deployments in the Pacific, I transferred to Quantico, Virginia and became an instructor at the Marine officers’ schoolhouse.
The terrorist attacks of 9/11left me with a sense of shock and a bit of anger, so I reenlisted. I was “voluntold” to serve as a recruiter in St. Louis, Missouri. I later completed six more deployments in the Middle East and Europe, including three combat deployments to Afghanistan and Iraq. In 2016, I retired after twenty years of service on Cape Henry in Virginia, the very spot that English settlers landed on after their journey to the New World.
How did your service shape the person you are today?
As a kid the only knowledge of American culture that I had was from movies. Even some of the greatest American literary works were not strong enough to overcome the power of Hollywood, which shaped my opinion and views on who the Americans are. Needless to say, I was a bit off the mark.
My service in the Marine Corps introduced me to some of the finest Americans this country has produced. It also introduced me to the gritty and a tough culture that shaped American history and made it the country it is today.
Becoming a Marine was also an opportunity for me to affirm my American-me, my new identity in my new home. The more I learned about America through its sons and daughters, as well as traveling, the more I fell in love with it. The ideals espoused by the American people are the very essence of American exceptionalism, in which I believe. “Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” is not just a catch phrase to me. These are universal ideals worth fighting and even dying for. We Americans have a strong track record of fighting and dying for these ideals. I can only be honored to be a part of that fight.
As a veteran, what sort of responsibility do you feel to speak up on issues that relate to American ideals?
Our Constitution captures and contains American ideals better than any other document I can think of. As the service-members, we swore an oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United States of America. Whenever someone challenges those ideals and the Constitution, he/she must be challenged back. Otherwise, we risk losing it all. We owe it to our country, and we owe to the future generations of Americans wherever they may have been born.
Tell me about one issue related to those ideals that is of particular importance or concern to you right now. What are you doing about it?
Liberty. Liberty means freedom from persecution, despotism, or government control. In my mind, it also means freedom from being prejudged, freedom to worship, freedom of choices, and freedom to live and be happy. Liberty is the light that emanates from the American “shining city on the hill.” In my opinion, it is the single most important American ideal.
The current political season has been very painful to me. Some candidates are espousing measures that would restrict liberty for the sake of security. I’m not buying this because of the old American wisdom. Ben Franklin said: “Those who would give up essential liberty, to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.” I believe this to be true. That is why at any given opportunity, I speak out against the soft tyrannical language that permeates the current political discourse. That is why I became active with the Veterans for American Ideals. VFAI offered me a platform that is otherwise inaccessible to many of the veterans willing to speak out.
What would you say to other veterans about the role that they can play in these issues as citizens?
We, as veterans, gave an oath before God that we will support and defend the Constitution of the United States of America. That oath does not have an expiration date. We must bear true faith and allegiance to the Constitution. Therefore, the least we can do is engage and challenge the people who challenge our Constitution and the ideals that too many of our predecessors have died for. Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness is a worthy cause. It is a worthy cause to die for, as well as to live for.