The Army Just Turned 242. Here’s How Far It’s Come, and Where It’s Going.

Few American institutions pre-date the founding of our country. Yet on Wednesday, we celebrate the birthday of one of them—the U.S. Army.

Tracing its birth to June 14, 1775, the Army originates from an act passed by the Continental Congress authorizing ten companies of “expert riflemen” to join state militias gathered outside Boston.

President George Washington’s appointment as the Army’s commander-in-chief came the following day.

The story of the Army’s 242 years is the story of our nation, punctuated by military operations like the Battle of New Orleans in the War of 1812, the surrender of the Confederate Army at Appomattox, the successful battle of Saint-Mihiel in World War I, the D-Day invasion, the bloody battle of Ia-Drang Valley in Vietnam, the tough fights in Operation Anaconda in Afghanistan, and the history being written today by the brave American soldiers deployed today in 140 countries around the world.

But the Army story is not only about battles. It also encompasses innumerable positive advancements and successes for our country—for example, the exploration of the American West by Army Capt. Merriweather Lewis and 2nd Lt. William Clark, or the research of Dr. Walter Reed, who pioneered the solution to Yellow Fever.

It also includes the abolishment of racial discrimination in the Armed Forces by President Harry Truman in 1948, the Army’s enforcement of desegregation at the University of Alabama in 1963, and the Army relief operation mounted in Liberia in 2014 to help the country deal with the ravages of the Ebola virus.

For 242 years, the Army has been there when it was needed. Yes, the equipment and the uniforms have changed over the years. But some things will never change, like the Army’s spirit, pride, and passion.

The Army’s can-do spirit was on full display in 2011 as it withdrew millions of pieces of equipment from Iraq against a tight Dec. 31 deadline.

As the deputy commanding general for support for U.S. Forces in Iraq at the time, the media constantly asked me, “Is it possible to get all this equipment and supplies out by the deadline?” My answer was inevitably, “When the chips are down, never bet against the U.S. Army.”

And thanks to the indomitable truck drivers, forklift operators, and thousands of extraordinary soldiers, the Army was out of Iraq ahead of schedule with all its equipment.

The pride of the Army is evident in the soldiers newly graduated from Basic Combat Training, standing tall in their Army Blue uniforms and confident in their training, their drill sergeants, and their new profession.

Watching new self-assured soldiers and their proud parents embrace after a Basic Combat Training graduation never fails to bring a lump to my throat.

An abiding passion underlies everything the Army does. One of the favorite sayings of Gen. Creighton Abram (former army chief of staff and World War II hero) was this: “Soldiering is an affair of the heart.”

And of course he was right. You can’t lead men and women to do things they would normally never consider using cold, dry management. You have to be completely committed to your soldiers and your mission.

Today, the Army faces the challenge of inconsistent and inadequate levels of funding, and a declining percentage of the American public that is able and willing to serve.

It’s certain, however, that with the support of Congress, the American public, and America’s proud traditions, the Army will continue to be there when it’s needed for the next 242 years and beyond.

Happy Birthday, Army.

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