You know, we are so fortunate to have Secretary of the Army Fran Harvey, and Chief of Staff of the Army Pete Schoomaker, and Sergeant Major Preston serving our country, and I want to acknowledge that.
Now when Pete mentioned the three veterans that are here representing the veterans, I didn't see them. Can they identify themselves? There we are. Thank you! (Applause). God bless you.
We have senior civilian and military officials, veterans, families, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen.
To the men and women in uniform here today, and any of those watching on the Pentagon Channel around the globe, I certainly want to join in thanking you for your truly outstanding service to our country. You're doing noble work. And we're so deeply grateful to you. And future generations will be in your debt.
I'm delighted to be able to be here to celebrate the birthday of the United States Army. The finest army on the face of the earth. Let there be no doubt about that! Of course, it's always enjoyable for me to be able to celebrate something that's older than I am.
In fact, I've got a message for the Army: sometimes things get better with age.
And indeed, I'm happy to say that -- even well into its 231st year -- the U.S. Army is becoming more flexible, more innovative, better prepared to tackle the new challenges that we face.
Of course, such a bright prognosis seemed anything but certain back in the U.S. Army's very earliest days. I recently was reading a book on General George Washington who, before he was President, of course, was the first Commander of the Continental Army.
He feared that his task might be too great for him. And indeed the Army endured years of misery and setbacks.
Continental Soldiers always seemed to be one misfortune away from defeat. They faced terrible shortages -- of food, of supplies, of medicine, ammunition. And George Washington, of course, was within inches of being fired as a failure.
Yet the United States would not be here today, as it is, without the courage and tenacity of those Citizen-Soldiers who against all odds -- and despite all of the hardships they faced -- followed through on the simple vow: that “We will be free.”
This has been the Army's proud calling ever since its earliest days. It has made its mark in history in engagements so storied that they can be summoned to our consciousness by the mere mention of the names:
- Bunker Hill;
- Ia Drang,
- Enduring Freedom; and
- Iraqi Freedom
It was the United States Army whose Rangers parachuted into Kandahar in the earliest days of Operation Enduring Freedom.
It was the United States Army that sent the 101st Airborne to tackle the Taliban in the mountains of Afghanistan, and whose 3rd ID made the Thunder Runs into Baghdad with speed and audacity that caught the enemy by surprise.
And it was the United States Army whose 4th ID pulled Saddam Hussein from a spider hole.
And it is the United States Army that every day is going on the offensive against the violent extremists who killed 3,000 men, women, and children on September 11th, 2001.
They've had to serve not just as Soldiers, but as diplomats; not just as warfighters, but as peacekeepers.
And with every new challenge, they have demonstrated their ability to rise to the occasion.
They have given their country many heroes:
- The wounded, who are determined to get back into the units, in the fight;
- Family members who have remained stalwart while their loved ones are far from home,
- And of course, those Americans we remember who never returned from the fight.
Let me remind you of one of them. Two years ago, near the Baghdad Airport, an Army unit came under heavy enemy fire by Iraqi extremists. One Soldier, thinking only of his comrades, gave his life so his brothers could live.
President Bush could have made no finer choice for the first recipient of the Medal of Honor in the Global War on Terrorism than Army Sergeant First Class Paul Ray Smith.
At the Medal of Honor ceremony earlier this year in the Pentagon, his widow, Birgit, said:
"Paul loved his country; he loved the Army, and he loved his Soldiers.
He loved being a sapper. And he died doing what he loved."
A German citizen at the time, Mrs. Smith said she believed her husband would be proud that she was taking steps to become an American citizen.
She concluded her comments with a thunderous and heartfelt: “Hoo-ah!” Quite a lady. And I should add -- I'm told she is now an American citizen.
For over 200 years, the Army has been at the forefront of defending the freedom that makes our country such a very special place.
The Army story is America's story -- where men and women are judged not by race or religion or family heritage, but by merit. Where anyone with a desire to serve and anyone with the drive and talent can excel.
Since our early days, through the generations that followed, and amid the conflicts, hardships, millions of Americans have risked what the Founders called “their lives, their fortune and their sacred honor,” They risked it to defend America's ideals and its missions.
Now that duty, that burden, indeed, that privilege falls to this generation -- just as it had to earlier generations in past eras and to the veterans we just recognized earlier.
Every man and woman serving in uniform is helping to write a new chapter in that glorious history. And I know you will make it a proud chapter.
May God bless the men and women in the United States Army. And may God continue to bless our wonderful country. Thank you very much.