FORT LEWIS, Wash. - As Fort Lewis Soldiers and families celebrated the 233rd Army Birthday Ball June 12, United States Army Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Richard Cody reminded them of what it is to be a Soldier fighting in today's Army.

At the outset, Cody expressed his appreciation for the opportunity to celebrate the Army's birthday with Fort Lewis Soldiers and let guests know how proud he was of each one of them for the part they play in the present-day fight.

"Our country, our people, our freedom and our way of life are worth defending," Cody said.

He explained that 15-month deployments and uncharted enemy territories have made this war tough to fight, and never in the nation's history has the Army asked so much of so few Soldiers for such an extended period of time.

More than 9,800 Soldiers from Fort Lewis deployed last year, and more than 7,100 are preparing to deploy in the upcoming months.

Cody is no stranger to war. He has served several tours with the 101st Airborne Division, including during Operation Desert Storm, and has sent his two sons, both commissioned officers in the Army, to war six times.

As Cody told the story of the first time he sent one of his sons off to war, laughter rang throughout the ballroom.

"I can remember my wife when I sent my son off for the first time. She looked me straight in the eyes and she said 'You go instead of him'. I finally knew where I stood."

As the laughter died away, Cody talked about the seriousness of the Army's mission. He told the Soldiers that they can, they must and they will defeat al-Qaida, in an effort to bring freedom to 50 million people in Iraq and Afghanistan.

In a recent trip to Afghanistan, Cody visited with a unit that had been on the ground for only 30 days but was already heavily engaged. The night before he met with the Soldiers the unit had lost a young private first class in a tough fight against the Taliban. The unit was preparing for a memorial service when Cody flew in.

When he asked the Soldiers what they thought their fallen comrade would want them to do, Cody said, one of the youngest in the formation replied that he would want them to finish their mission.

"Now that's Army Strong ... I know that you are continually building trust, Soldier to Soldier, leader to led. It is a powerful bond ... when you can turn to your left and turn to your right and know the person beside you is well-trained, combat hardened and has got your back," Cody said.

It is that same trust that echoes through the families back home, as they wait for their loved ones to return, he said.

"We are Army strong, truly, because families are Army strong. Six years into the war we could not do this without strong Army families," he said. "America owes your families a debt that it can never repay."

Cody thanked all the family members in attendance for their service to the nation as they share their husbands, wives, moms and dads with all of America to keep the country safe, referring to them as unsung heroes of the war. He reminded the families that Soldiers could not succeed without their support.

As Cody concluded, he reminded guests that the evening was more than just a celebration of the Army's 233rd birthday but also a chance to reflect on the strength of Soldiers, Army families and the community around them.

Recalling the four decades he has spent wearing a uniform, Cody said that ever since entering the service during the Vietnam era he has watched it grow from a draftee Army to an all-volunteer force.

"This is the finest Army I have ever served in. I take my uniform off on (August 4) of this year," he said, "but every day after that you will be in my prayers. I will watch you, and I know that you will continue to be the greatest Army in the world."

Spc. Lindsey M. Bradford is assigned to the I Corps Public Affairs Office