The annual Armed Forces Celebration Week is well-known as a time when Huntsville and its surrounding communities come together to express their appreciation to the military and Redstone Arsenal.
But one of the Army's top-ranked Soldiers used the occasion this year to return that thanks - expressing his appreciation for a community that is keeping the Army strong.
Referring to the DoD civilian and contractor base supporting Redstone Arsenal as well as the area's large number of military retirees, Army vice chief of staff Gen. Richard Cody told local media prior to the Armed Forces Celebration Salute Luncheon on June 25 at the Von Braun Center that the "Army values what the community does for men and women in uniform."
Despite the devastation of Sept. 11, 2001, and issues surrounding the nation's wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, Cody said the past six years have solidified the American public behind its military.
"What we're seeing is our local communities wrapping their arms around Soldiers and their family members," he said.
Now 30 years into an all-volunteer force, Cody said there are many American families who have had no family member serving in the military in the second and third generations since the draft of the Vietnam War.
"It's an education process for those who haven't served," he said. "Yet men and women know what war is about and they still enlist. Last year, 80,000 enlisted watched the war on TV and still said 'In time of need, send me.' Today, we have the highest quality and most dedicated force serving."
Cody is familiar with the worries and sacrifices families of today's Soldiers are making. His oldest son is now finishing his fourth combat tour while his younger son is stationed at Fort Rucker.
"We ask a lot of our families," he said.
But those families know their Soldier is making a difference.
"The people of Afghanistan and Iraq are free today because of the American Soldier. We are exporting the American dream to those countries so their people can live in harmony and reach their full potential," he said.
Cody's comments to the media carried over into his speech at the salute luncheon, one of many events that occurred during Armed Forces Celebration Week.
"We're blessed with leaders who grew up out of the Vietnam War and the Cold War," he told his luncheon audience. "This community here does something very, very special that needs to be emulated throughout the Army."
Because of the work ethic of the work force at Redstone Arsenal, Cody said the Army has flown 2.5 million helicopter hours in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"Those aircraft give the tactical edge to our Soldiers on the ground," he said. "We have the best military, the best aircraft, because of you. ... We haven't lost an aircraft due to maintenance issues in more than a year and we haven't had an aircraft shot down in that time either. In Afghanistan and Iraq, our aviators and those who fly on those helicopters trust what you do to save their lives."
Cody takes the maintenance of Army aircraft personally. His oldest son pilots Apache helicopters in Afghanistan.
"It's a comfort to me as a father to know the dedication of the work force and community to see that these Soldiers go into combat with the best .... You can't judge your importance to the fight by your proximity to the battlefield," he said. "You're making a difference on the battlefield."
DoD employees involved in providing needed parts for maintenance and repairs, and in developing new systems that make helicopters more effective and safe are just as essential to a helicopter's successful mission as its pilot and co-pilot.
All DoD civilians and contractors help to make a difference on the battlefield, Cody added. So, too, do the military retirees and the public who support Soldiers no matter what their politics.
"You have a love and respect for Soldiers that wear the cloth of the nation and keep freedom for all," Cody said. "We don't ask much. You make the hard days and sleepless nights worth it.
"Soldiers are men and women who believe America is worth fighting for and they have seen what happens when there is no democracy. They want to free Iraq and Afghanistan. Where American Soldiers walk, freedom follows in their boot steps."
Cody ended his speech by quoting a letter written by 21-year-old Pvt. Joshua Pearce to his family before his death in Iraq in 2006.
"We are not here to kill. We are here to help as many as we can to live a better life ... I'm here because this is my choice. I don't want to die. But if that's what I was put on this Earth to do, then everyone should know that I went for a cause that in my heart was worth dying for -- America," the letter said.
Nearly every day, Cody passes Arlington Cemetery in Washington, D.C., on his way home from work.
"I ask myself 'Am I living a life worth their sacrifice' Am I doing everything possible to support the Soldier and do I have the same moral courage and bravery''" he said.
With the support of communities like Huntsville, "the all-volunteer Army will be able to face the challenges of today and those of tomorrow ... Go the distance with our Soldiers," he said in closing.