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Sal Moretti is the superintendent for the City of Bakersfield's Public Works Department, Solid Waste Division.

Courtesy of Sal Moretti

I was a little reticent about joining the military in my younger days. Those who knew me back then knew I didn’t have a military mind. Not so much into “yes, sir, no, sir” and such.

The people I knew who had served, the movies, and my overall understanding of the military, was that they indoctrinate you, aka brainwash you, to be this soldier who follows orders and doesn’t think for himself. I was a little worried about that but I wanted to serve and I wanted to be a part of something, so I joined. I attended the Officer Training School in Lackland, Texas, in April 1986 and was commissioned an officer in the Air Force.

Joining the Air Force became one of those profoundly positive experiences in my life and marks a time when I learned to lead in what could be the best leadership training program in the world. And, no, I was not brainwashed to say that.

There was no brainwashing at all. I learned that I could believe anything I wanted as long as I carried out the mission. Actions, not beliefs, were all that my superiors were concerned about. The military is not composed of those who share a belief system, except the belief in serving our country. We understood our mission, carried out our directives, and fought the battles that needed to be fought — that we were directed to fight, without a thought as to our beliefs. And people of all faiths and ethnicity served alongside each other.

Fast-forward 30 years and I hear talk about how another well-respected institution, the FBI, has been compromised by some members’ beliefs. Some are calling into question the politics and beliefs of certain agents, as if these folks are failing a litmus test for service, the litmus test being some sort of lack of loyalty or political orientation that disqualifies them for the job. There’s even talk of a “purge.” That the “deep state” has agents perpetrating a conspiracy. Wow!

Let me assure those who may be confused: All of the soldiers, all of the agents, most anybody who has a job, learns that to be successful you have to be professional. What one thinks does not matter. Rather, carrying out the mission of the organization is what matters most.

In my last job, as the City of Bakersfield’s Solid Waste Division superintendent, it didn’t matter what I thought about trash, the customer, or other people within my organization — we all had a duty and a mission to carry out.

As with all organizations, internal controls are needed to make sure things don’t go astray. These internal controls apply to any FBI agents who may have acted in their professional capacity inappropriately, but they also apply to others, including the president. We should welcome this scrutiny in our society and encourage it.

When the Cold War ended, the size of the military was reduced significantly. In 1992, 2,000 officers were laid off in a short period of time, including me, marking the end of my life in the military. My fears at the outset, that I might be brainwashed, were replaced with an appreciation that our military, our institutions, our nation, are composed of men and women much the same as me, who regardless of our personal beliefs, come together with a mission and a purpose to fulfill.

You could almost argue that the sacrifices of those who died weren’t made because of what they believed in, since they all had different beliefs, but as part of their sense of duty and mission.

Let’s not then strive to conform to a singular belief system, or loyalty to a person, but to a mission and a purpose and to a value system that is greater than any one person and that allows the individual to believe what they choose.

Sal Moretti, retired City of Bakersfield superintendent and former U.S. Air Force captain, works with several not-for-profits developing jobs programs for the homeless. The views expressed here are his own.