JOINT BASE MYER-HENDERSON HALL, Va. (Jan. 14, 2013) -- Retiring after 43 years serving the nation, the director of the Army National Guard challenged his successors to maintain the standard of a force at a 377-year peak.

"The Army National Guard after 12 years of war is undoubtedly the best we've ever been," Lt. Gen. William E. Ingram Jr. said at a Tuesday morning ceremony here. "The Army National Guard is unequivocally the best-manned, best-equipped, best-trained, best-led and most experienced ever. Our Soldiers continuously demonstrate courage, experience, dedication to the mission and a sense of patriotism that is unrivaled in our 377-year history.

"It's extremely important that we preserve this national treasure, even as we navigate through the current period of fiscal uncertainty. The National Guard is a great value today and into the future. Preserving a high-quality, all-volunteer force -- active, Guard and Reserve -- and upholding our standards, discipline and fitness is essential."

Ingram called the total force, which is comprised of the active Army, Army National Guard and Army Reserve, "Unquestionably the finest Army ever produced by the greatest nation on earth."

But the bulk of his parting remarks were highly personal, focusing on the profession of arms and on the team of service members and civilians who surrounded him through a career that included command in the Balkans and nine years as the adjutant general of the North Carolina National Guard, an appointment once held by his father.

"Behind every Soldier is a committed and a resilient family," Ingram said, telling his children and grandchildren, "Few people outside the military understand the sacrifices you made for me to be a Soldier. Thank you for all the love and support that allowed me to follow this career path and to be standing here today."

It was a career Ingram loved.

"As a nation, we're blessed to have such magnificent patriots in our ranks," he said. "I'm awed by their devotion to duty, humbled by their sacrifice and deeply honored to serve beside these extraordinary warriors.

"I quickly discovered that I truly love being a Soldier," he continued. "I love wearing the uniform. I love serving our country. Soldiering is as much about the heart as the mind. There's much passion in what Soldiers do. I've learned that what matters most is the cause we have been privileged to serve and those we've been privileged to serve with.

"I think about the selfless and total commitment of our men and women and their families," he said. "They give all they have: sometimes, their lives. They speak in whispers or not at all about what they've done. They're the best we have in America. I'm deeply indebted and eternally grateful to the many superior peers and subordinates that have shaped me over the years."

Ingram quoted retired Gen. Frederick M. Franks, whose own career included combat in Vietnam and command during Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm. Ingram noted that he had read Franks' words at retirement ceremonies he hosted for others, and that he now wished to use them at his own.

"If you like what our country stands for and want to serve those ideals you ought to be a Soldier," Franks wrote. "If you want to be around a lot of other people who feel the same way about that as you do, you ought to be a Soldier.

"If the sound of the national anthem, and the sight of our flag stirs something inside you then you ought to be a Soldier.

"If you like a challenge, are not afraid of hard work and think you are tough enough to meet the standards on the battlefield, you ought to be a Soldier.

"If you and your family are strong enough to endure the many separations often on a moment's notice and can live that kind of life, then you ought to be a Soldier.

"If the thought that at the end of your life you can say I served my country and that appeals to you, then you ought to be a Soldier."