It is an honor to be here to celebrate the 235th birthday of the United States Army. I also heard there was cake. I also think it’s very symbolic in honor of our men and women serving in combat zones that here in the courtyard of the Pentagon today we’ve done our best to replicate the climate of Iraq and Afghanistan.
Now, with all these luminaries here, I wanted to relate a cautionary tale that reminds all of us to never allow our positions to inflate our viewsof ourselves. A pompous new commander had just moved into his new office. He was going through routine paperwork at his desk when a private knocked on the door. Feeling that it was important to set the right tone for his rank and position, the commander quickly picked up the phone, told the private to enter, then said into the phone, “Yes, general, I’ll be seeing him this afternoon and I’ll pass along your message. In the meantime, thank you for your good wishes, sir.” Feeling as though he had sufficiently impressed the young enlisted man, he growled, “What do you want?” “Nothing important, sir,” the private replied, “I'm just here to hook up your telephone.”
There are many downsides to this job, but one of the things I truly look forward to is any chance I have to meet with soldiers and their families. Every stop I make anywhere will include troop talks or town halls, so that I can hear honestly how things are going. There is always time on my schedule to listen to what these amazing Americans have to say – even if sometimes it may be tough to hear. My direct engagement with soldiers on the battlefield, their families at home, and civilians employed around the world has helped shape my views and the priorities of the service and the department. From sharing education benefits with family members, to improving the performance of uniforms in combat, many important innovations have come out of these ground level discussions. We as leaders must never forget our responsibility to listen. This institution’s legacy of patriotism and the spirit of the men and women who have served in it demand no less.
In 1775, as an initial force of ten companies of “expert riflemen”, the continental Army secured the birth of a nation by defeating what was then the greatest ground force in the world. Today, we have nearly 200,000 soldiers deployed and stationed abroad, to include two major combat theaters. The Afghanistan and Iraq campaigns have demanded of our soldiers an ever-changing set of capabilities and competencies. I am awed by their ability to adapt and succeed in a mission that at various stages has called upon them to be scholars, teachers, policemen, farmers, bankers, engineers, social workers, and, of course, warriors – often all at the same time. Above all, I am perpetually thankful for their willingness to serve, and have the greatest of faith in their ability to face the difficult and dangerous missions that lie ahead.
These patriots have always been “the strength of the nation.” The unwavering dedication to duty, to our country, and to all Americans embodied in the Army motto “This we’ll defend” has guaranteed that our freedom and security, though tested, has never faltered – and will never fail. So happy birthday to the United States Army, whose enduring patriotism and indomitable will I’m confident will last another 235 years.