This United States has been called the great American melting pot. It is a metaphor to explain how the ingredients of the many races, ethnicities, religions and creeds found in America can come together to become stronger than any one ingredient alone. The melting pot brings us together and changes us into a stronger people.
That diversity is part of what makes our Army strong. We take young men and women from all backgrounds, some who come several generations of Americans and some who are first generation Americans, and turn them into a force with a common focus, the defense of our great way of life. We understand better than most that success has nothing to do with the color of your skin, where you were born, or the type of religion to which you belong. In fact, we know there is only one color of importance to the Soldier and that is Army green. And, we know that it is what you achieve that matters.
One famous example of how diversity made us stronger comes from World War II. The Army and Marine Corps used a group of 24 Navajo Indian code talkers in the Pacific Theater, who fought in the many bloody island campaigns. In Europe, the 4th Infantry Division had 17 Comanche code talkers who from the D-Day landings at Normandy to the Battle of the Bulge kept our lines of communications secure. By recognizing and utilizing something unique within the fabric of Americana, the military identified a means to transmit secret messages in a code our enemies could never break. But, we still had a long way to go back then in fully utilizing the strength we find in diversity.
It was only in 1948, when President Harry S. Truman signed an executive order that led to the integration of the military, that we really started on the road to becoming the model of meritocracy that our military is today. In fact, minorities now comprise more than a third of our Armed Forces.
Today military leaders from allied nations marvel at the cohesiveness of American military units and are amazed that we do it with such a wide range of people from various backgrounds and cultures. They marvel at how Soldiers with so many differences can put them aside and be the dominant fighting force that we are.
One way that cohesiveness is achieved is through our NCO Corps, our first line leaders. Today's NCO is an innovative, competent and professional enlisted leader grounded in heritage, values and tradition yet who understands the young men and women of our modern society. Today's NCOs are capable of leading, training and motivating our diverse teams and enforcing common standards for them all. They must be culturally astute not just of the complex American way of life but understanding and respectful of other ways of life.
Malcolm Forbes, the deceased chairman and editor-in-chief of the magazine that bears his name once said diversity is the art of thinking independently together. I like to think he also meant acting together as well. Perhaps it is the shared intensity of Army life which breaks down barriers between people of different racial, ethnic or cultural backgrounds. I think Army life creates a common bond that pushes the insignificant differences away.
NCOs are the standard keepers for that way of life. Training, leading, coaching and mentoring Soldiers forges those bonds. Our NCOs embody the concept of adaptability for our Soldiers from the barracks of basic training to the mountains of Afghanistan and that is why they are able to take our diversity and turn it into our strength.
The Army is an environment where every member is valued and challenged to achieve their potential while executing their duties and the Army's mission. I am grateful that I wear a uniform that makes it possible for one Soldier to look another Soldier in the eye and think only about the tasks at hand. The Army is such a place because of its NCOs.