Well, [Americans don't actually enjoy equality before the law], I don't think the word "exceptional" [wrt American Exceptionalism] means what you think it means.
Also, ideals which you are supposed to never live up to aren't "ideals", they are only ink over dead trees. After all, living by one ideals is what is supposed to be exceptional.
As an Air Officer, you took an oath to abide by the Constitution. Why the heck did you pledge your life to something you don't believe in??
"Exceptionalism" is exactly the right word. The US is exceptional in the sense that being American is all about a set of ideals, not ethnicity, religion, place of birth, etc. Compared to Japan, Europe, or anywhere else I've been, that is very much the exception.
Moreover, the US is exceptional in another dimension, perhaps less apparent at first glance: the imposition of constraints on government. The Constitution says nothing about what government must do, but goes into some detail what it may not do: impose religious tests for office; limit the ability to write, speak, read and hear; restrict meaningful self defense, usw. In other words, Americans have rights through negation -- natural law, expressed in the Declaration, implemented in the Constitution, strictly limits what a legitimate government may do.
Of course, there are numerous, often wide, gaps between "ought" and "is".
The Declaration and many parts of the Constitution express "ought". Everyone ought to be equal before the law, be completely free to speak, own a gun, not be subject to religious tests for office, etc.
So, in essence, the Declaration and Constitution amount to a governmental moral code, without which it would be far more difficult, if not impossible, ascertain illegitimate governance. Moreover, the gap between is and ought provides a basis for a moral arc to history.
Over time, the circle of moral regard has widened. People take a very different view of what constitutes moral behavior to those qualified to be within their group, as opposed to those outside it. So long as black Americans were considered an inferior version of humanity, they were outside circle of moral regard: it was perfectly fine to treat them in ways that would never be remotely acceptable for white Americans. But as reality intruded, it became progressively more difficult to maintain the notion that blacks aren't just as human as the rest of us, and just as increasingly difficult to continue excluding them from the circle of moral regard. This, in turn, created a gap, not new in reality, but newly perceived, between ought and is. And, therefore, the organic, and exceptional, imperative to close that gap.
Imperfectly, yes. Slowly, yes. Undoubtedly the knock-on effects will burden us for generations to come. But the imperative meant that black Americans, over the last 40 or so years, have gained complete legal parity with white Americans, while avoiding, to an astonishing extent, the violence oppressed groups have had to engage in elsewhere in order to lift their oppression (e.g., South Africa).
This is exactly why these ideals aren't ink smeared on dead trees.
So long, of course, as people understand and appreciate the timeless enlightenment principles embodied in the Constitution.
Unfortunately, that is far from the case. Hillary!, Trump, and the New York Times have all advocated "No Fly, No Buy". That is, if someone's name appears on the No Fly list, they may not purchase a gun. Only those who either don't believe in natural rights, or believe in unfettered government power, can possibly push such a thing. Our very existence entails the right to meaningful self defense, just as it entails the right to think, believe, speak, and hear freely. Advocating abridging such a right outside the due process of law is manifest proof that whoever does such a thing either doesn't understand, or is happy to willfully disregard, the very basis for our society.
Hillary!, Trump, the New York Times, and Harry all believe the political class is entitled to control political speech and, therefore, political thought. Unfortunately for them, since the US Constitution is based upon the concept of government that is legitimate only to the extent that it defends natural law, it is easy to see all of them for the tyrants they hope to be.
Hillary! is a pathological, ironically inept, given all her practice, liar. She clearly is a pandering sexist, and, as if that wasn't enough, a rapist enabler. Her house should have been raided, and she should be in jail. Trumpster is the distillation of ADD and Asperger's, leaving out all the good parts: whenever he gets bored, he sets himself on fire. At any given moment, it is almost impossible to tell whether his prodigious gift for arrogance is more, or ever so slightly less, appalling than his irremediable ignorance. He wouldn't know the Constitution if it smacked him upside the head, and is no more inclined to protect and defend it than a cat is a mouse.
Yet, despite all that, I'm confident the Republic will soldier on. Why? Because of that other source of American exceptionalism: the balance of powers. The differing sources of political power, tenure, and authority just about guarantee that no matter which of these complete knuckleheads wins the election, the other two branches will frustrate their manifest stupidities.
So there you have it: is and ought; the very real difficulty of having a moral code without some objective basis; and, the unique ability of Constitution to frustrate the fever dreams of arrogant, ignorant, idiotic, perverted, stupid, boneheaded, should have been strangled at birth politicians.
Which is to say, damn near all of them.
Those are reasons enough to pledge my life to defend something I believe in very much. No matter the gap between aspiration and reality.