Our freedom is the result of their sacrifice

The warriors serving in our Marine Corps today are a truly remarkable generation.  They continue to carry out each mission with the same spirit, determination, and devotion to duty that has allowed our military to prevail in combat throughout our Nation’s history.  As the Department of Defense’s only general-purpose force trained and equipped as the Nation’s first responders, the Marine Corps understands that America expects her Marines to arrive anywhere in the world on short notice — whether to fight and win our Nation’s battles or to provide humanitarian assistance, as was necessary when a disastrous earthquake recently struck Haiti. 

Today’s Marines know that they will repeatedly go into harm’s way, and despite this, they continue to join and reenlist at incredible rates.  The Marine Corps is not only exceeding recruiting and reenlistment goals, the Marines in our ranks are also exceeding both Department of Defense and Marine Corps standards.  In Fiscal Year 2009, for our combined active and reserve components, the high school graduation rate of our recruits exceeded 98 percent. In addition, our reenlistment numbers and our 98.4 percent Military Occupational Specialty (MOS) match tell us that we are retaining the right Marines with the appropriate skills.  The leaders of our Corps could not be prouder of the fine men and women serving today.

Our people — the brave warriors who wear our uniform and the spouses, parents, and children who support them — remain our most valuable resource and our number one priority.  They have all endured a rigorous deployment schedule and the risks of war with the utmost strength and dedication.  Despite the high operational tempo, Marines and their families remain resolved to answer their Nation’s call.  In the past year, we were proud to transfer responsibility for al Anbar Province in Iraq to the United States Army and complete a responsible drawdown of Marine Corps forces in Iraq.  Just one year ago, we had more than 20,000 Marines deployed to that country.  Today, we have fewer than 200 Marines there.  This speaks volumes about the progress our servicemembers have made, and we could not be prouder of the tremendous change of which our Marines have been a part. 

Still, there is much to be done.  In Afghanistan, we are nearing our goal of 19,400 Marines.  The results of the plus-up in Afghanistan are already evident.  Our Marines have made a difference in some of the toughest regions of Afghanistan, primarily Helmand Province in the south — formerly a Taliban stronghold and the source of the highest volume of opium production in the world.  The challenges in Afghanistan are daunting, but we are confident that our Marines and Sailors will approach this mission in the same professional manner as they did in Iraq and are well up to the task. 

While we recruit Marines, we retain families.  When Marines know that their loved ones at home are well cared for, they are better prepared to face the rigors of deployment and more inclined to stay in uniform when they return home.  More than 45 percent of our Marines are married, and providing our families the resources and support they need is critical to the long-term health of our Corps.  Our families are the unsung heroes of our Corps.  Our Marines could not effectively accomplish their mission without the support and understanding back home.  We are truly grateful for the quiet and determined strength our families demonstrate through the numerous challenges — their steadfast support allows us to accomplish our missions.  As our Nation continues to face economic challenges, we are also especially grateful for to the charitable organizations and American citizens who continue to show our military members a remarkable level of support.  The good will and generosity of people here at home reminds our warriors that their sacrifices never go unrecognized or unappreciated. 

As we pause in recognition of Memorial Day and Military Appreciation Month, we reflect on the generations of warriors who believed so completely in our American ideals that they sacrificed everything so that we may enjoy the freedoms we know today.  In addition to our Marines, we also pay tribute to the Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, and Coast Guardsmen who continue to give full measure and join in the common goal of protecting our Nation, our people, and our liberty.  They are all proudly carrying on the legacy and traditions of those who came before.  We extend deepest gratitude to our veterans for their selfless service and to all who willingly serve on active duty and in our Reserves today.  It is your dedication and patriotism that allows our Nation to serve as a beacon of freedom to the rest of the world.

Gen. Conway is the Commandment of the Marine Corps.