On the Army’s 237th birthday, June 14, the Army chief of staff 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.
Gen. Ray Odierno started his morning by addressing the nation at the MSNBC television studios at 30 Rockefeller Center, during a segment of the television show "Morning Joe."
He talked with host Joe Scarborough about challenges the Army is facing, in particular with declining budgets.
But he 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 – we have been given the resources to execute the two wars we’ve been asked to execute," Odierno said.
Adding, "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 soldiers face in light of multiple deployments.
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," he said, pointing out the gold bars stitched into the sleeve of his Army Service Uniform.
Adding, "So when you go around and look at those, you understand how many times somebody has deployed."
Odierno has 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."
He said, to date, as a result of combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, 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 Disorder (PTSD). 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.
Adding, "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 in 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 military and the Army specifically have long and close ties with the city of New York," Odierno said.
He added, "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 – I think we’re a good match together."
Odierno said the celebration in Times Square, 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 10 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," he stressed.
"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.
"[Those soldiers] are representatives of our values, they are representatives of our ethical and moral values, and they are representatives of America," he said.
On the Army’s birthday, Odierno said, it is a day to celebrate the entire "Army family," that 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," he said.
From a live video feed from Afghanistan, New Yorkers shared in an Army birthday celebration in the desert, hosted by the commander of the 1st Infantry Division, Maj. Gen. William C. Mayville.
Mayville cut a cake, along with soldiers, via the video feed, sharing their Army pride with Americans back home.
In New York, Odierno cut a cake shaped like an Army tank.
It weighed 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.
Before the Times Square military recruiting station, located in this historic area since 1946, he swore 16 young Americans into the Army by administering the oath of enlistment.
During the enlistment ceremony, all soldiers in the area were also asked to raise their hands, so they too could recite the pledge to protect the nation.
Odieno then travelled to nearby Bryant Park, to witness a traditional tattoo, that featured performances by the U.S. Army’s Fife and Drum Corps and the U.S Army Drill Team, both from the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard), from Fort Myer, Va., a presentation from the "Soldiers Show," and music by The United States Army Band, "Pershing’s Own."
Odierno then performed a New York City tradition – he closed the New York Stock Exchange by ringing the closing bell.
(Based on an ARNEWS article.)