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Army Birthday Celebration

As Delivered by Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, Pentagon Auditorium, Washington D.C., Thursday, June 13, 2013

Thank you.  Thank you.  Good morning.  Happy birthday.  Mr. Secretary [McHugh], thank you for your leadership and what you continue to do for this institution, General Odierno, for your leadership at a very challenging time in the history of the United States Army.

Sergeant Major Chandler, thank you.  You and your enlisted men and women continue to inspire us all.  I want to also acknowledge and thank the DOD leadership present here today for what you continue to do for this institution and for our country.  Thank you.

Special acknowledgement and happy birthday to our oldest Army veteran here, wherever he is, Colonel Wittich, where is Colonel Wittich?  Colonel Wittich happy birthday.  Thank you.  You've never looked better and more fit.

Also, our youngest Army representative here, I think is here somewhere, Private First Class Selig?  And thank you, as we thank all of our members of the United States Army here today and all over the world, and we thank and celebrate those who have served in the United States Army and our veterans, and in particular, as Secretary McHugh noted, our wounded warriors here today and their families.  Thank you for what you've done.

I will begin my brief remarks with an acknowledgement, as the Chief and Secretary have already noted, to the families of our Army – current Army, our past Army, our future Army, for what you've done.  And I think General Odierno said it pretty well.  The sacrifices that families make are not covered in great glory or attention, but they deserve as much recognition and thanks as do our members.  So to the families, thank you.  Thank you.

As has been noted, a 238th birthday is rather significant.  That represents an institution that has essentially been around longer than the republic and has grown as vibrantly and effectively and been as important to the world and to this republic as any one institution.

General Odierno talked about trust.  And as we all know, that is the coin of the realm.  And I would add one component to that, and that's confidence.  I don't know of an institution in our country that has held the trust and the confidence of our citizenry more than the United States Army and the military. 

That's rather significant, through the history of this country, I don't know of another country in the world that can say that.  And that is the result of many, many things.  But more than anything else, it's just as General Odierno talked about what has defined and shaped the culture, but it's the definition of why we have an Army.  And I'll share with you two examples of what I'm talking about.

Over the last two days, I have had the great privilege of revisiting my former home, the Congress, in hearings.  It's always a joyous event  as  many of you know, especially our distinguished leaders in the front row here.  And you're always much enhanced and you earn your pay, of course, but you always learn a hell of a lot.  And you're much enhanced as you leave those hearings, of course.  

Two interesting questions were asked during those three hearings, yesterday in particular, and they came from the House Budget Committee.  One was about the Army and our military doing humanitarian work.  Why would the military, the Army, be focused, have in its budget assistance for natural disasters around the world?  And why is that important to your mission?  Or is that your mission?  We thought the Department of Defense was about the security of our country.

Well, it gave me an opportunity to address that, because many times that component of our force structure is lost.  And I said, bottom line, when you look at what the soldier is about, more than any other part of our society, it's about preserving the peace, because it's the soldier, when we don't have peace, that makes the sacrifices.

And so MacArthur said it eloquently.  Other great leaders in our country's history in the Army have said it.  The soldier wants peace more than anyone else.  And so when you look at investments in helping others – and  we have countless examples from every war, over the 238 years of this institution – great photographs of American G.I.’s in World War II bending down on their knees, giving a young German boy or girl a chocolate bar.

Former Chancellor of Germany Helmut Kohl used to tell the story, the first orange – the first orange he ever saw in his life, he was seven years old.  The American troops were marching into this German village, and every German citizen was scared to death, thinking that they would be massacred.  And the American troops hugged these children, gave them chocolate bars and oranges.  And Kohl tells that story – told it many, many times, and tears would come to his eyes when he would tell that story.

The point being, what is a better investment in peace and stability and security and developing friendships and partnerships for the future of the world than what our military does in that capacity?  Yes, we fight wars.  We're the best at it, have been, will continue to be.  But there's another dynamic to what you do.

Another question I was asked yesterday: “Well, Mr. Secretary, can you address the issue of the bifurcation, the split, misunderstanding in our society today when we have 1 percent of our population serves in the military?  Is that healthy?  Should we change that?  Are you disconnected from society?”

Good question.  It's a question, as a matter of fact, when I was in the United States Senate, I more than occasionally spoke on, on the Senate floor.  But part of the answer I gave back to the congressman was acknowledging it's a relevant question, it's an important question, but part of the way I would answer it – and I did answer it – is the continued astounding confidence and trust the American people have in this institution.  In Gallup's last 15 years of most trusted institutions in America, the military is in the stratosphere.  Everybody else isn't doing well.  But the military has stayed way the hell on top. 

And so that's good news, in many ways.  You could also say, well, yeah, but it's that one percent that bears all the burden, makes all the sacrifices, does all the fighting, does all the dying.  That's true.  But even with that difference, there is still an astounding respect for our military in society.  Even though they are disconnected, probably more so than at any time in the history of this nation, and it still connects and resonates with the American public.

Now, those values that were instilled and shaped this institution 237, 238 years ago just weren't a narrative.  They had to be sustained over 238 years - duty, honor, country.  I don't know of an institution that's done that better than this institution.

Thank you for what you are doing, what you've done, and what you continue to do for this country.  These are difficult times.  I don't have to tell any of you, especially for our Army leadership having to deal with the budget issues and these – these great uncertainties that hang over all of us.

But if you ever want to put your money on an institution, you want to put it on the Army, because the Army has weathered a lot of things and our military has, and we'll get through this.  And we will rebalance.  And we will adapt, as we always have.  And that'll be much because we will go back and stay anchored to the traditions and the values and the family and the partnerships of who we are as not just American citizens, but part of a remarkable, remarkable institution that we celebrate today and we recognize today.

Now, for 12 years, when I was in the Senate, I had the privilege of serving the state of Nebraska, and every June 14th, if the Senate was in session, I would go to the Senate floor, and I would give a happy birthday speech to the Army.  So it became the only thing I was ever known for, actually.

It would be brief, of course, and substantive, as all my speeches were, but I'd always end it with a birthday greetings and a happy birthday and a very healthy "hooah!"

There we are.  Happy birthday. 

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