As we approach Memorial Day, I am reminded of our soldiers’ 237-year history of fortitude and resolve to meet the needs of the nation. American soldiers have always answered the call to duty, despite challenge, sacrifice and hardship. I have no doubt that they will continue this tradition of excellence, empowered by their professional ethos and the support of a grateful nation.
Throughout our nation’s history, our soldiers have safeguarded our freedom and way of life. They did so during our long war for independence, in the fields of Antietam, at the River Marne, in the Ardennes Forest, in the jungles of Vietnam and in countless other conflicts.
Over the past decade, the current generation of soldiers proved themselves to be worthy of their forebears’ distinction. In Iraq, they freed more than 25 million people and gave hope where hope was forsaken. Even in the darkest days, their resolve surpassed all expectations. In Afghanistan, the longest war of our nation’s history, they dismantled the most capable transnational terrorist group the world has ever known and are setting conditions to ensure no future group will claim safe haven in that country. And throughout the world, from the Korean Peninsula to North Africa to Central America, they actively guard the gates of freedom with honor, skill and determination.
I am awed by our soldiers’ steadfast dedication, esprit de corps and valiant sacrifice. I am bolstered by their outstanding professionalism, physical and mental toughness and selfless service.
Their courage under fire is evident by the honors our nation has bestowed upon them. The Army has presented more than 14,000 valor awards over the last 10 years, including six Medals of Honor and 25 Distinguished Service Crosses.
These accomplishments have come at a great cost. We will never forget the more than 4,600 American soldiers who gave their lives in service to our nation in Iraq and Afghanistan. And we owe our utmost respect and admiration for the more than 33,000 who were wounded. Our most solemn professional obligation is to honor these heroes by ensuring they, along with their families, are taken care of — by telling their valorous stories and by upholding the professional standards for which they sacrificed so much.
Behind every soldier is a family: an anxious spouse, beloved children, concerned parents and significant others. Army families have shown us the meaning of resilience, character and untiring commitment. They adjust for the absence of a father or mother, husband or wife, son or daughter. In some cases, they adjust to the absence of two parents or multiple children.
The critical role our families play in maintaining our readiness is often under-appreciated or taken for granted. Whether it be managing our affairs or encouraging us in all that we do at home and abroad, our families are instrumental to all of our soldiers’ accomplishments.
I often ask myself how our soldiers and their families can bear the burden of war for so long and yet continue to demonstrate exceptional conviction and resolve. The best answer I can come up with is found in the values that embody our profession. Ours is a selfless profession filled by men and women who willingly choose to belong to a noble calling — something greater than themselves. It is much more than a job. It is a 24/7 way of life guided by professional values and a warrior ethos.
American soldiers intensely study their professional competencies to reach the pinnacle of their field, establishing themselves as the core of the most powerful land force ever known. They operate under complex, often chaotic conditions that require immediate transitions from fighting to community building. They have demonstrated an uncanny ability to assess, adapt quickly and make sound decisions, often at risk of life, but without hesitation.
Trust is the bedrock of our profession. Trust between soldiers is having complete faith in the person on our right and left, knowing they will be there for us when we need them and demonstrating that we will be there for them. Trust between soldiers and their leaders means setting the example, empowering subordinates and sustaining standards, discipline and fitness. Trust between soldiers, their families and the Army means understanding the mission always comes first, the Army always takes care of its own and believing the saying “once a soldier, always a soldier.” Finally, there is an unbreakable trust between the Army and the American people. The American people know that we will respond and adapt in a way that is morally and ethically upright and that reflects the values of our country, no matter the circumstance.
I am absolutely convinced that this generation of young Americans who continue to put their lives on the line for their country is the next Greatest Generation. I am confident they will continue their selfless dedication to the nation, whether in military service or transitioning to new opportunities. American soldiers are ingrained with an entrepreneurial and resilient spirit, a willingness to sacrifice and, above all, total commitment to the principles of duty, honor and country.
The strength of our nation is our Army.
The strength of our Army is our soldiers.
The strength of our soldiers is our families.
This is what makes us Army Strong!
Odierno is chief of staff of the U.S. Army.