By C. Todd Lopez
WASINGTON (June 15, 2012) -- On the day of the Army's 237th birthday, the Army's senior-most officer toured one of the largest cities in America -- New York City -- to tell the Army's story and to thank Americans there and across the United States, for their continuing support of the American Soldier.
Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. Ray Odierno started his morning in the "Big Apple" by addressing the nation in front of television cameras at the MSNBC television studios at 30 Rockefeller Center, during a segment of the popular early-morning television show "Morning Joe."
The general talked with host Joe Scarborough about challenges the Army is facing, in particular with declining budgets. But the general also said that despite looming budget cuts and the challenges that will come with them, America has remained strong in its support of the Army.
"For the last ten years and one of the reasons we have said thank you to the American people, is that we have been given the resources to execute the two wars we've been asked to execute," Odierno said. "And the American public has given us quite a bit and believed in us, and so it is important for us to thank them for doing that."
Odierno also talked about the challenges of multiple deployments on Soldiers. He told Scarborough how Americans can identify the time a Soldier has spent in combat.
"I always tell people when you meet somebody in the Army, look at their right sleeve, each one of these means six months of combat," the general said, pointing out the gold bars stitched into the sleeve of his Army Service Uniform coat. "So when you go around and look at those, you understand how many times somebody has deployed."
The general himself had eleven bars on his right sleeve -- representing five and half years in combat.
"We have asked a lot of these men and women," Odierno said. "This is the first time we've had such extended combat operations for an all-volunteer Army."
The general said to date, as a result of combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, some 4,400 Soldiers have been killed. An additional 32,000 have been injured, he said. Additionally, some of the Soldiers coming back from those wars will continue to suffer from the effects of post-traumatic stress. For those, Odierno said, Americans must continue with their support.
"We will continue to see those who have PTSD as they come back. We'll have to deal with that," he said. "As a nation, we owe it to them to make sure we are able to continue to take care of them because of what we have asked them to do."
SWEARING IN AND TANK CAKE AT TIMES SQUARE
In the heart of New York City, Times Square, Odierno addressed a crowd of several hundred who had gathered to witness both a traditional birthday celebration -- with a cake cutting -- and an even more traditional ceremony that involves turning young civilian Americans into new Soldiers -- an enlistment.
The general first thanked New Yorkers for hosting the event, and said he feels the military and the Army have a connection to the city.
"The military and the Army specifically have long and close ties with the city of New York," Odierno said. "And I think it's appropriate, since I consider New York to be the best city in the world and I consider the U.S. Army to be the best fighting force in the world -- so I think we're a good match together."
The general said the celebration there, beneath neon signs and video screens is not just about the 237th birthday of the Army, but also about the millions who have served the United States since the beginning of the nation: from the Revolutionary War, to World War I and World War II, through the Korean War, to Vietnam, then to Desert Storm and finally, the last ten years in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"As I have had a chance to go around the world, I realize that we have something very special here," Odierno said, referring to the United States. "Our freedoms and our liberties are very unique to any other country in the world, and our Army is here to protect those freedoms and protect those liberties. We are an arm of the people and we are an arm of our constitution."
As he had done earlier, on television, the general again said that it is the American people, with funding and support, that makes it possible for the Army to do what it does.
"We want to (give thanks for) the incredible support that we get from the people, from all citizens of the United States, that allows us to do our difficult job," Odierno said.
Today, the general said, there are 94,000 Soldiers deployed around the world. About 68,000 are in Afghanistan now. Others are deployed to locations such as Bosnia, Kosovo and the Middle East. Another 90,000, he said, are forward stationed in about 150 countries.
"(Those Soldiers) are representatives of our values, they are representatives of our ethical and moral values, and they are representatives of America," he said. "That's why today it is so important to recognize the sacrifice of many throughout the years, and over the last ten years. We've had over 4,000 Soldiers give their lives for our country, and over 35,000 injured for their country. And they do that because they think it's important that we continue to bring the values of freedom and liberty around the world, and protect our own freedom and liberty."
On the Army's birthday, Odierno said, it is a day to celebrate the entire "Army Family." That, he said, includes active duty Soldiers, Soldiers from the Army National Guard, and Soldiers from the Army Reserve. It also includes Department of the Army civilians, and the family members of America's Soldiers.
"So as you go about your day-to-day, think about the sacrifices, think about our great Army, and think about how fortunate we are to live in this great country of ours -- there is no country like it," the general said.
On a live video feed from Afghanistan, New Yorkers shared in an Army birthday celebration that happened there in the desert. That celebration happened with the commander of the 1st Infantry Division, deployed now. He cut a cake, along with Soldiers, via the video feed, to share their Army pride with Americans back home.
Back in New York, Odierno cut a cake locally. This cake, shaped like an Army tank, weighed a full 500 pounds, and was prepared for the Army by Buddy Valastro and his staff. Valastro is well-known from the popular television series "Cake Boss" on TLC. Eight members of Valastro's staff took three days to prepare the tank-shaped cake.
Finally, before leaving Times Square, Odierno presided over a ceremony even more traditional, and sacred, than cutting a birthday cake. There, before the military recruiting station that has been in place there since 1946, the general swore 16 young Americans into the Army by administering the oath of enlistment.
During the enlistment ceremony, other Soldiers in the area were also asked to raise their own hands, so they too could recite the pledge to protect the nation.
Odierno's day in New York didn't end with Times Square.
The general continued on to nearby Bryant Park, to witness a traditional tattoo, which included performances by the Army's Fife and Drum Corps and Army Drill Team. Also part of the presentation, the "Soldiers Show," and music from the Army Band.
Odierno closed out his day, and the Army birthday celebrations in the city, by performing a New York City tradition -- he closed the New York Stock Exchange by ringing the closing bell there. Since the NYSE moved to its current location in 1903, trading at the exchange has ended each day with the ringing of a bell. Before that, trading was stopped with a gong, and before that, with a gavel.