By Army Sgt. 1st Class Michael J. Carden
American Forces Press Service
June 14, 2010 - Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates helped to celebrate the Army's 235th birthday today at a Pentagon courtyard ceremony and imparted a message for its leadership to always make time to listen to what their troops have to say.
"There are many downsides to [being Defense Secretary], but one of the things I truly look forward to is any chance I have to meet soldiers and their families," Gates said. "Every stop I make anywhere will include troop talks or town halls, so that I can hear honestly how things are going.
"There is always time on my schedule to listen to what these amazing Americans have to say, even if sometimes it's tough to hear," he continued. "My direct engagement with soldiers on the battlefield, their families at home and civilians employed around the world has helped shape my views and the priorities of service and the department." The Army birthday celebration also included Army Secretary John M. McHugh, Army Chief of Staff George W. Casey Jr., Sgt. Maj. of the Army Kenneth O. Preston and other senior leaders.
Gates underscored his comments, citing that recent innovations such as increased education benefits and better combat uniforms and gear, have developed from soldiers' input to leaders.
Leaders must never forget they have a responsibility to listen, he said.
"This institution's legacy of patriotism and the spirit of the men and women who've served in it demand no less," the secretary said.
More than 200,000 soldiers today are deployed around the world, the majority of which are serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. Many more have seen combat in those theaters as well as others.
Gates expressed his admiration for those soldiers and their ability to adapt to the nature of those conflicts. Today's soldiers have the skills and intellect necessary to adjust to the demands of an ever-changing set of capabilities and competencies required by today's multi-faceted Army missions, he said.
"I'm awed by their ability to adapt and succeed in a mission that at various stages has called upon them to be scholars, teacher, policeman, farmers, bankers, engineers, social workers and, of course, warriors, often all at the same time," he said. "Above all, I am perpetually thankful for their willingness to serve and have the greatest faith in their ability to face the difficult and dangerous missions that lie ahead."
The U.S. military liberated more than 50 million people from tyranny and totalitarian regimes during the past decade alone. The individual soldiers and servicemembers deserve much credit for their desire to relieve so many from oppression, Casey said during the Pentagon ceremony.
The Army's senior uniformed officer cited an Army birthday message from President Barack Obama, which decreed that soldiers "represent the best of America."
"I would tell you that we are that way because of our core values, because of our ethos and because of our people," Casey said. "At its core, our history is the history of our people; ordinary Americans, ordinary men and women who have done extraordinary things over time for this great country."
More than 30 million men and women have served in the Army since its establishment by the Continental Congress on June 14, 1775.
Today's Pentagon ceremony concluded with a traditional cake cutting by the oldest and youngest soldiers serving in the Military District of Washington. Also, some 20 Army National Guardsmen and active duty soldiers reenlisted. The event also featured static displays of past and present Army uniforms, weapons and technology displayed throughout the Pentagon courtyard.