By C. Todd Lopez
WASHINGTON (June 14, 2015) -- "There is a lot of uncertainty that exists in this world today, in spite of predictions by others that we are entering a period of peace," said Secretary of the Army John M. McHugh. "But even with declining budgets, I know this to be certain: America is the world's indispensable nation, and you are her indispensable Army."
The more than 1,000 Soldiers, civilians and family members who had gathered for the 2015 Army Birthday Ball, June 13, in Washington, D.C., roared in approval of the secretary's summation of the Army they serve.
Soldiers from around the nation gathered in Washington, D.C., to celebrate the Army's 240th birthday during the 2015 Army Birthday Ball. The evening began with a tribute to fallen Soldiers by Charlene Cross, whose son, Spc. Jason Bogar, died July 13, 2008 during a firefight in Afghanistan -- the same battle that earned Staff Sgt. Ryan Pitts the Medal of Honor.
Entertainment included performances by the Army Band's "Army Voices," the Army Field Band's "Jazz Ambassadors," and the 2015 U.S. Army Soldier Show.
Army senior leaders also put into context the significance of 240 years of Army service to the nation.
"Tomorrow, to the exact day in 1775, the Continental Congress adopted and approved the creation of the American Continental Army," McHugh said. "The very same Army each and every one of you proudly serves today. And 240 birthdays later, that same Army stands tall as the strategic land power of America's joint force, and the dominant, the unrivaled, the preeminent military force on the face of the planet."
McHugh, who serves now as the 21st secretary of the Army, assumed office in September 2009. He recently announced his plan to leave the position in November. When he leaves office, he will have served in the position for more than 6 years.
"In my life, in my more than 6 decades, I have seen turning point after turning point, thanks to the ... sacrifice of American Soldiers," McHugh said. "In my short time as Army secretary, I have witnessed this Army do things that others said couldn't be done. I have watched with awe, and wondered how, day after day, in every corner of the world, American Soldiers extend the benefits of liberty and security to an increasingly complex world. And I am proud to say, at the heart of it all, just as it was in Saratoga, there are individual men and women who are committed to an uncommon life of incredible consequence, men and women like each and every one of you in this room tonight: passionate, dedicated professionals who routinely display the exceptional character that you show in defense of our nation."
STRENGTH OF THE NATION
Gen. Ray Odierno assumed the role of chief of staff of the Army in September 2011. Since then, he has signed off on nearly every speech he has given with something nearly every Soldier has heard by now: "The strength of our nation is our Army. The strength of our Army is our Soldiers. And the strength of our Soldiers is our Families. That's what makes us Army Strong."
Odierno plans to retire from the Army in August. He used his last turn behind the lectern at an Army Birthday Ball to explain what is by now a signature sentiment for the general.
Calling attention to the Army flag on display in the ballroom, he pointed out that the flag bears 188 battle streamers. Those streamers, he said, represent, among other conflicts, the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, the Civil War, both the first and second world wars, Korea and Vietnam.
Also on the flag are 13 streamers that represent the war on terrorism, as well as the Iraq and Afghanistan campaigns.
"I have lost incredible young men and women, sacrificed in Iraq and Afghanistan for this country," Odierno said. "That is why the Army is the strength of this nation."
About 2.5 million Soldiers deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan over the last 14 years. Those Soldiers, he said, are what makes the Army work.
"The Army is about Soldiers," he said. "It is about young men and women who are selfless, dedicated, competent, and committed; and who do their job with great character, no matter where we'll be, no matter when we ask them. And if necessary, they are willing to give their lives for this country. That is what we must never forget. That is why our Soldiers are the strength of our Army."
Back home, supporting those Soldiers no matter where they go, are their families.
"The strength of our Soldiers is our families," he said, calling out as an example, Charlene Cross, who had earlier stood on the stage and provided a tribute to fallen Soldiers. Among those fallen Soldiers was her own son.
"That is what we are about," Odierno said. "Those that support us, no matter what, who are always there for us. Who are there to do whatever is necessary because they love their Soldiers. And they are willing to support them no matter what we ask them to do. That is what makes us so strong. That is what enables us to do the things that we are asked to do."
Not forgetting the historical significance of 240 years of Army history, Odierno finally called attention to Soldiers that came before: all those who have served since the Army was first created in 1775.
"What really makes us 'Army Strong,' are the millions of men and women who came before us," he said. "We stand on their shoulders every single day because of what they gave us in this nation: a nation of freedom, a nation of liberties like no other. It is because of their sacrifice and your sacrifice that we are able to continue to enjoy it."
"The strength of our nation is our Army. The strength of our Army is our Soldiers. And the strength of our Soldiers is our Families. That's what makes us Army Strong," he said.
Odierno retires in August from the Army, when he does, he'll have served over 39 years in the Army. He was commissioned as a second lieutenant in June 1976.
While Odierno and McHugh cited history, the Army's senior-most enlisted Soldier called out some of the greatest Soldiers in America's Army today.
Sgt. Maj. of the Army Daniel A. Dailey asked several Soldiers attending the ball to stand, and to be recognized by other Army Ball guests. Included were:
-- Sgt. 1st Class Matthew Carpenter, the 2014 U.S. Army NCO of the Year
-- Sgt. Thomas Boyd, the 2014 U.S. Army Soldier of the Year
-- Staff Sgt. Jonathan Miller, 2014 Drill Sergeant of the Year
-- Sgt. 1st Class Thomas Russell, 2014 AIT Platoon Sergeant of the Year
-- Sgt. 1st Class Jeremy Lemma, 2015 Best Ranger Competition winner
-- Sgt. 1st Class Timothy Briggs, 2015 Best Ranger Competition winner
Briggs, Dailey said, is a two-time winner of the Best Ranger Competition. He also earned that title in 2013.
"We have an Army that is full of great Soldiers," Dailey said. "And we have hundreds of thousands of dedicated, resilient, ready, volunteer Soldiers in our active, Reserve and Guard ranks, who live, eat, and breathe the Army profession, day in and day out."
"For over 240 years, Soldiers have advanced our cause and they have prevailed," Dailey said. "That legacy continues through the service and sacrifice of great Soldiers, families and civilians in our Army today."