Though the U.S. Navy is made up of ships, submarines and aircraft, its true strength lies in the skill and dedication of its people. As the chief of naval operations, it is my honor to lead the 625,000 active and reserve sailors and civilians who propel the Navy forward and protect our nation’s security and prosperity. As we prepare to mark this Memorial Day, it is a privilege to recognize the service and sacrifices of your American sailors and their families.

Our sailors are among the brightest, most committed and courageous individuals our nation has to offer. They are the sons and daughters of America, representing every state and territory as well the rich heritage of a diverse nation. In my travels around the Navy, I am continually reminded of how different perspectives and backgrounds come together to form our Navy team. They are a team that is committed to operating forward and being ready to respond.

From their first year in the Navy, sailors and their families quickly gain an appreciation for what it means to serve. Deployments abroad for several months at a time and emergent operations in response to dynamic world events form the routine of their lives. While they keep the watch overseas, sailors often miss birthdays, anniversaries and other family milestones. I am impressed by their endurance and resilience, which sustains our Navy’s forward presence on land and at sea around the globe. It is the sacrifice of the sailors and their families that supports the high demand of today’s Navy and our many missions.

Today more than half of our 285-ship Navy, including five aircraft carriers and six large-deck amphibious ships, are deployed overseas or at sea getting ready to deploy. We have more than 20,000 sailors supporting operations in the Middle East. Of that number, more than 17,000 sailors are at sea, and about 4,500 are serving on the ground in Afghanistan. Navy aircraft provide about a third of the air support for U.S. and NATO forces in current campaign to secure Afghanistan. As part of the world’s preeminent maritime force, American sailors are engaged in protecting the interconnected systems of trade, information, and security that support our economy and those of our friends and allies. They are also on watch to keep the peace in volatile regions and support our diplomatic efforts. In many places, the American sailor is the face of U.S. global leadership, maintaining trust that sustains our partnerships and alliances as well as demonstrating unshakable resolve that deters aggression.

This is today’s all-volunteer force and today’s military family. We are grateful that so many high-caliber young Americans have answered the call to serve. But we are also mindful of, and pay tribute to, those who shaped our nation’s history and paid the ultimate sacrifice. Indeed, freedom is not free. Our rich heritage has demonstrated the importance of having capable sailors willing to go into harm’s way. We must never forget these sailors and their families for their sacrifice and dedicated commitment to their country.

I am very proud of their heroism as they serve throughout the world. The knowledge, high standards and productivity required of them, in some of the most challenging environments, prove how exceptional they truly are. So, as we recognize their service during this Memorial Day, I am confident that the spirit and passion of your American sailor will never be forgotten.

Greenert is chief of Naval Operations.

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