By Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. Ray Odierno March 17, 2015
It's great to be here. Guy, thank you for that great introduction. And, just first of all, it's great to see so many people here from the Class of '76. [Applause] Actually, I want to mention that there are 32 general officers who came out of the Class of 1976 and we are incredibly proud of that. I also want to make a couple other comments. My wife and I are part of the 2% club. We dated all the way through high school. We made it all the way through West Point together. Here we are 39 years later and I am extremely proud of that. [Applause] I was mentioning earlier that even today as Chief of Staff of the Army, I still get that certain feeling when you go through the front gate at West Point. It has never gone away. [Laughter]
I want to thank all of the current and future members of the Long Gray Line, our distinguished guests, friends, and families who have come here tonight to celebrate the founding of the United States Military Academy 213 years ago.
So before I begin, I'll just say that I've learned over the years and one of the things about being a good keynote speaker is the art of saying a lot without talking a lot. I remember a young school boy who was asked to give a report on Julius Caesar. "Julius Caesar was born a long time ago," the boy explained. "He was a great general. He won some important battles. He made a long speech. They killed him." [Laughter] So, I'll try not to earn Caesar's fate today.
In that spirit, tonight as we talk about our common West Point heritage - I'll be frank and let my hair down. [Displayed CSA Picture as Cadet] [Laughter]
This evening for my last Founder's Day in uniform, I want to take the opportunity to reflect on what West Point has meant to me over the years and what it means to our Nation and its future.
The idea of a national military academy came from the Founders of this Great Nation. They knew we needed an institution. And George Washington in 1782 was attempting to start a military academy and of course it didn't come into being until 1802. So I would tell you that the bureaucracy back then was as bad as it is today.
Like many of you here this evening, I often try to avoid dating myself too much. But as an Old Grad, I have an unsaid obligation to do so at occasions like this by simply saying: "The Corps Has!" [Laughter]
I will tell you there are differences in the Corps. A week prior to my class graduation night we were treated to a concert by the "Boss." For the younger generation, The Boss is not Donald Trump, it is Bruce Springsteen.
In 1976, there were no personal computers. We were just starting to get calculators. We used this thing called a slide rule. And for any of you who didn't get a chance to use a slide rule, you really missed out. In fact, I still have mine, and someday I will properly memorialize it somewhere in my home. [Laughter]
Back then, an Apple and a Blackberry were things you eat. [Laughter] A tweet was a noise a bird made. [Laughter] Doing something involving Yahoo would have earned you several hours walking the area. [Laughter] An iPhone was something in the basement of the barracks hung on the wall with a long cord that you had to put ten cents into to call home. [Laughter] And some of you might not know what this is but Tony's was located in Central Area to supplement all of our dining needs! Funny story - My son graduated 25 years ago, and so we were going up for his graduation and they put Tony's in Highland Falls. And this is a true story. I walked into Tony's and the same guy who was there in when I was a cadet said, "Let me guess, 1976 right?" That's when I realized how many calzones I had ate… [Laughter]
I could lament and tell you how easy the Corps has it today -- able to go into Highland Falls whenever you want or access limitless information at their fingertips -- cellphones, music, movies, TV, and all the social media you might have.
I could also say that cadets have it easier with a world class digital library supplementing an incredibly great physical one -- meaning cadets today don't have to go up and down Mezzanine levels and narrow passageways in the Library. They can avoid getting lost for days trying to find books and articles for research papers. [Pause] Now I'm trying to make it sound like I actually went to the library, but… [Laughter].
But before we go on to say the Corps has, let me show you the cadet photos of the haircuts of all of the current 4-Star generals. Everyone of these haircuts are completely against current Army regulations. [Displayed Current 4-Star Generals Who Are Members of the Long Grey Line] [Laughter] I've got to remind everyone, this was the 70s. Ok, you can take those down now. [Laughter]
So, although our experiences were and will continue to be different and graduates throughout time will say "The Corps Has," there are a few things The Corps has … for Generation after Generation … done:
• It has instilled a lifelong commitment to the values of Duty, Honor, Country
• It has been the foundation of our Competence, Commitment, and Character
• It has grown generations of leaders who have served our Nation and our way of life
• It has immeasurably impacted our lives, our careers, our families, our values, our goals
• And It has been a bedrock upon which lifelong relationships are built
Tonight as we gather together, we affirm what the Corps is. We affirm the values of Duty, Honor, Country and a lifetime of selfless service and sacrifice in choosing "the harder right instead of the easier wrong, and never to be content with a half-truth when the whole can be won."
It is these sorts of occasions that remind me of General MacArthur's timeless words - "In my dreams I hear again the crash of guns, the rattle of musketry, the strange, mournful mutter of the battlefield. But in the evening of my memory I come back to West Point. Always there echoes and re-echoes: Duty, Honor, Country."
Tonight, I want to impart a few words about that foundation. More importantly, I want to talk to you about What the Corps Is to our Nation's Future.
We all share a vital lifelong connection. We each are a link in the Long Gray Line of men and women who have volunteered to lead our Nation's Soldiers.
And today as in the past, we have such great young men and women who enter West Point every single year. When anyone joins the Long Gray Line, it is a commitment like no other.
• A commitment to become part of something greater than yourself
• A commitment to defend the Constitution of the United States
• A commitment to carry on the legacy of those who have come before us to include those who have given their lives in defense of this Nation
• And a commitment of service whether it be inside or outside of the Army
The Long Gray Line is also a family affair. The heraldry of this family is based upon the unwavering service to the Nation, generation after generation. In 1902 President Theodore Roosevelt, speaking at West Point's Centennial Graduation declared that "no other educational institution in the land has contributed as many names as West Point has contributed to the honor roll of the Nation's greatest citizens, and of all the institutions in the country, none is more absolutely American."
This foundation upon which our Nation's future is built remains just as strong today. People across our country, and indeed across the globe, recognize West Point's legacy. They recognize it as the world's preeminent institution of leadership and education.
Today, as we look around the world in a time of great uncertainty, whether it's in the Middle East, Eastern Europe, Asia and the Pacific or even here at home. It is during times like these when strength of leadership is paramount. So just like other difficult times in our Nation's history, we will look to the United States Military Academy at West Point to provide our leaders of the future.
For 14 years since 9/11, West Point graduates have led our experienced, combat-tested leaders and Soldiers in combat. To date, 101 of them have given the ultimate sacrifice and hundreds of others have been wounded. West Point graduates have earned hundreds of Medals of Valor, to include 2 Distinguished Service Crosses, 37 Silver Stars, 20 Distinguished Flying Crosses and 248 Bronze Stars for Valor and 501 Purple Hearts.
When we look for leadership, everyone looks to the United States Military Academy.
Today and across the Army, graduates are making a difference. In Eastern Europe, graduates like the Commander of United States Army Europe Lieutenant General Ben Hodges (Class of '80), to 173d Commander Colonel Michael Foster (Class of '90) and Army Aviator 1LT Michael Casares (Class of '12), are there today partnering with our Allies at every level to hedge against Russian aggression.
And across the Middle East, General Lloyd Austin (Class of '75) is leading diverse missions to counter growing instability. In Afghanistan, we have the current ISAF Commander General John Campbell (Class of '79) down to CPT Curtis Nelson (Class of '07), a company commander in Kandahar, maintaining pressure on those who threaten the Afghan government. In Iraq, we have grads like 3d BCT, 82d ABN Division Commander Colonel Curtis Buzzard (Class of '92) in the Advise and Assist role to defeat ISIS while Colonel Gregory Sierra (Class of '90), who commands the Theater Reserve in Kuwait, also supporting training efforts for Iraq.
In Africa, General Dave Rodriguez (Class of '76) is leading our efforts including our counter-terrorism and humanitarian assistance efforts in the region. And in the Pacific, US Army Pacific Commander General Vince Brooks (Class of '80) is establishing partnerships and building relationship with nations in the region. And from there, we have officers like 1LT McKinsey Hulen (Class of '11), who works currently with the Pacific Regional Medical Command, has recently departed for Fort Benning on 4 March to attend the Ranger Training and Assessment Course as one of the first females.
In Korea, General Curtis Scaparrotti (Class of '80) is leading the Combined Force Command and US Forces Korea to protect the hard won peace on the Korean Peninsula as South Korea continues to build its capacity, while Major General Tom Vandal (Class of '82) commands 2ID and Colonel Matthew Eichburg (Class of '93) commands 1/2 ABCT as it deters North Korean aggression.
And shaping our future force, General Dave Perkins (Class of '80), LTG Bob Brown (Class of '81), and LTG H.R. McMaster (Class of '84) all working hard to move our Army to the future.
We will continue to need leaders who represent America's values, and who have the competence, commitment, and character to lead us into the future because America entrusts her most precious assets -- their sons and daughters.
Today at West Point, a new generation of warriors are being prepared for future conflicts. These cadets are already learning the skills needed to think and operate in multiple domains across several continents delivering peace and stability. They are finding new innovative ways for the Army of the future to be more agile and adaptive.
For example, we have a cadet who worked on the Attack Helicopter Program to develop software requirements for integrating command & control of communication subsystem hardware on to the Apache helicopter.
Another cadet worked with on a project researching the utilization of analog sites on Earth as a test-bed for analyzing crew time devoted to research, crew rest and fatigue in the spaceflight environment.
At US Army Africa Headquarters, cadets assisted in the development of an independent assessment model to help gather and track data and information for US Africa Command and the entire African continent.
And West Point cadets are participating in faculty research projects as well as research in the design of base camps for operations other than war, disaster relief, humanitarian relief, and cyber.
We also have cadets who participated in competition for
• Steel Bridge Construction
• Intelligent Ground Vehicle Design
• Airplane Design
• Cyber Defense Exercises
• And an Oral History Program designed for cadets to interview combat veterans as part of a three-week summer assignment
West Point is working to ensure every cadet has the right tools to challenge the complex world that we face. So tonight, I can say with complete certainty that the Corps has endured the test of time and remains the foundation upon which our future is built.
But although so much has changed, it was General MacArthur who stated over 50 years ago as he stood talking to the Corps of Cadets upon acceptance of the Thayer Award: "Duty. Honor. Country. Those three hallowed words reverently dictate what you ought to be, what you can be, what you will be. They are your rallying points to build courage when courage seems to fail, to regain faith when there seems to be little cause for faith, to create hope when hope becomes forlorn."
Leadership is the foundation of our Nation's future. West Point is today and must remain the preeminent institution that provides this nation with the leaders it needs.
I have never been prouder to be a West Point Graduate, just one link in the Long Gray Line. Tonight as we proudly sing, "The Alma Mater" reflect upon the words. Remember those who sacrificed everything for this Nation. Remember those who continue to safeguard our freedom and our liberty. Two hundred years from now, at Founders Day celebrations like this one, the strength of the Long Gray Line will endure and they will remind all of the lasting legacy of our alma mater by repeating this refrain:
'Let duty be well performed,
Honor be e'er untarned,
Country be ever armed,
West point, by thee.'
I know the members of the Long Gray Line watch over us and guide us as we develop those next generations who will lead this great Nation. And it will continue to guide us no matter what situation we may find ourselves.
So as I leave tonight, remember those who have come before us. Remember those graduates who have given us this great country of ours. Remember those who are in harm's way, fighting to ensure that our Nation remains the best nation in the world. Remember those who will come after us and take on the burden of sacrifice that will continue to ensure we can live in this great Nation of ours.
The strength of our Nation is our Army
The strength of our Army is our Soldiers
The strength of our Soldiers is our Families.
This is what makes us Army Strong!
Go Army- Beat Navy!