By Army Chief of Staff Gen. Raymond T. OdiernoJanuary 11, 2012
Thank you all here tonight and I want to thank the special guest tonight. I want to take a moment to thank the Medal of Honor winners with us tonight -- Army Major General (Retired) Patrick H. Brady and Marine Sergeant Robert E. O'Malley. They are an inspiration to us here. Mayor Castro, I want to thank you for your support of this game and of the Army. Mr. Lou Miller, thank you for the Rotary's Partnership in the dinner.
What the All-American Bowl stands for. It recognizes the best High School Football Athletes, Marching Band Musicians, and Coaches in the Nation. It is the longest running High School All-Star Football game, with its first contests held 12 years ago in December 2000. Since then, it has produced over 100 NFL players to include standouts such as running back Adrian Peterson, quarterback Mark Sanchez, center Nick Mangold, linebacker Brian Cushing, defensive end Chris Long, and defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh.
This game, like the Army, honors the same ethos of discipline, selfless service, and teamwork. Selfless Service is serving a cause greater than yourself. It's about doing what's right for the team rather than the individual and those we are recognizing tonight are those who stood up above that; who understand team; who understand being part of something better than themselves. My guess is many of these players and these band members will move on to do many great things for our country.
We talk about mental and physical toughness required to succeed. We talk about resilience, overcoming adversity. In the military we talk about overcoming when your squad is attacked; you might have a member injured or killed one day, and you have to have enough resilience to continue up that hill. You have to have a belief in each other to overcome adversity.
Within a football game, you can overcome adversity yourself whether it be for one play, whether it be for one game, whether it be over a season; where you are able to overcome three losses in a row and have three wins in a row; where you are able to overcome falling behind and come together and overcome that adversity and show your resiliency for success. Resiliency is the bedrock of success because no one ever accomplishes everything they want to the first time. It is when you have the resilience to over come adversity.
Then we talk about discipline, learning, and I want to focus on trust. Trust is one of the most important characteristics we have in our Army. Trust between Soldiers; trust between Soldiers and leaders, trust between Soldiers, leaders, our families and the Army, and trust between the Army and the American people. And I know it is the same with football. You have to have trust with your teammates. You have to believe in them. You have to know that they will have your back when necessary. It is trust between coaches and the players -- that you are in it together; that you trust their decisions; that you believe in what you are trying to accomplish. There are many parallels. I could go on and on, but I won't. I want to point out one individual who did not play in this game, but I am proud of the values shown by Robert Griffin III, the Baylor quarterback that just won the Heisman trophy. He is a son of Soldiers. (Applause) Both his parents, Jackie and Robert Griffin were in the Army. He learned his values and his ethos from the Army. It is so great to see him succeed.
I want to congratulate all the players, band members and coaches. Your hard work and perseverance has paid off. That is why you are being recognized tonight. The leadership and mentorship provided by the coaches is invaluable in developing the future leaders. The most important thing in our country is our youth. It is important that we continue to develop our youth. Whether it be part of a musical organization; whether it be part of a football team, or whether it be academic, the youth is the future of our country. You sitting out here are the future of our country. I feel good about the future of our country because of you, because of your talents, and because of what you can bring to our country in the future. I am extremely proud to be here with you this evening.
I just want to take a minute to reflect on our Army's achievements and sacrifices over the past decade. Since the horrific attacks of 9-11 our Army has proven itself in what I consider to be the most difficult conditions this nation has ever faced. Our leaders at every level have displayed unparalleled ingenuity, flexibility, and adaptability. Our Soldiers have displayed mental and physical toughness and courage under fire. They have transformed our Army into the most versatile, agile, rapidly deployable, sustainable strategic land force in the world. But their accomplishments have come at an enormous cost. Over 4500 Soldiers have made the ultimate sacrifice. Another 32,000 have been wounded, with many thousands requiring long-term care. But they have also shown incredible valor. There have been over 14,000 Awards of Valor given to Soldiers in the Army over the last ten years. There have been 6 Awards of the Medal of Honor; 23 Distinguished Service Crosses; and well over 600 Silver Stars. We have just marked the end of Operations Iraqi Freedom and New Dawn. I could not be more proud of our Soldiers' accomplishments. As President Obama recently stated, our Soldiers crossed the border out of Iraq with our heads held high, closing one of the most extraordinary chapters in the history of our American Military.
In Afghanistan as we sit here today (I was there just two weeks ago. I came back Christmas Eve), our Soldiers continue to bravely fight and defeat the Taliban and train Afghan forces. I am impressed with the remarkable progress that they have made. Even more impressive is the morale and courage of our Soldiers and the focus and dedication of our leaders. This is because they believe in what they are doing, and they know that they are winning.
Our engagements are not just limited to Afghanistan. Across the globe, we have over 200,000 Soldiers forward stationed or deployed in over 100 countries, standing ready to respond to contingencies and ensure our Allies in places like the Korean Peninsula, the Horn of Africa, the Philippines, Kuwait and Kosovo, and of course here in the homeland in order to protect ourselves against enemy threat. When you ask our Soldiers why they serve, it is not for money or glory, but it is for their friends and families. If you ask our Soldiers here today about the awards they are humbly wearing on their uniforms, they will tell you that was only possible because of what their fellow Soldiers have done. While these awards may signal personal recognition, to them it is a recognition of what their teammates and battle buddies have done. Likewise the award that many of these young players receiving today, I am sure they will tell you it is because of their teammates that they are receiving these awards. Our Soldiers are an inspiration to us all. I feel fortunate when I get to be with them every single day. And I feel fortunate to be with these young players, coaches, and all of our special guests tonight.
For many of our players here tonight, you are getting ready to experience the transition from high school to college. Some of you might even be lucky enough to attend my Alma Mater, West Point. That transition will require you to prove yourself to our new coaches and teammates, to earn that starting position. For the coaches here this transition means you need to focus on building a new team, one that remains as capable of winning as the one you finished the season with.
Army Strong is a strength Soldiers develop through shared values and personal experience. It is forged by the tough realistic and rigorous training and enhanced by cutting edge technology. Army Strong is reflected in the players and management participating this weekend. They possess a mental, emotional and physical strength similar to our Soldiers. That is the gift and the privilege of being US Army All-Americans. Only the strongest wear the colors that you wear today.
Being a US Army All-American is not just an honor for a weekend. It is an honor for a lifetime. From this day forward, you will represent the men and women of the United States Army, the men and women who make it possible for you to do what you love. Every thing you do will reflect on them. Are you strong enough to represent them in a way that will make us all proud? Are you strong enough to raise up the values of loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, honor, integrity, and personal courage? Or will you give into the temptation of those whom do not have the best interest at heart? Do you have the strength to do what is right when no one is looking? Are you strong enough that 20 years from now, you can look in the mirror and say my Soldier hero will be proud of me? That is my challenge to you. Make every day of your life a shining example for all to follow. Be Army Strong every day.
Now I am honored to introduce Shannon Sharpe, the Hall of Famer, someone who serves as inspiration to young football players. Shannon was an All Country, All Region, All Area football star for Glennville High School in Georgia. In his spare time he was a basketball and track and field star. He played for Savannah State University, setting single season receiving records for yardage, touchdowns, and yards per catch. For his accomplishments at Savannah State, his number 2 jersey was retired. He was inducted into the NCAA Division II Hall of Fame. He went on to become a Hall of Fame tight end and three-time Super Bowl champion with the Denver Broncos and the Baltimore Ravens. He is the second all time NFL record holder for yards gained, receptions and touchdowns by a tight end. He was voted to eight Pro Bowls. He holds the NFL post-season record for longest reception, a 96-yard catch and run in for a touchdown in the 2000 AFC Championship Game.
As you all know, he is a current analyst at CBS NFL today, known for his somewhat creative commentary (laughter). In fact, he is also known for some of his creative commentary while still playing in the NFL. Shannon, I am not sure you know this, but I am a close friend of Coach Tom Coughlin of the New York Giants. He is a very close personal friend, and of course, the Giants are my favorite team. I also believe that Coach Coughlin embodies what we believe are the Army ethos. But before I finish, Shannon, Coach Coughlin wanted me to ask you if you really said and I quote, "I would rather die an abandoned filthy bum and my family not know what happened than play for Coach Coughlin." (Laughter) I am a little concerned Shannon because this is the Army All-American Bowl. I just got done talking about loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, and honor, which I believe Coach Coughlin reflects. But I still have a lot of faith in you Shannon, and I know deep in your heart, you'd be more than willing to play for my good friend Coach Tom Coughlin. All kidding aside, I know you both have tremendous professional respect for each other. Shannon, thank you for what you do to support these players and our Army. I would ask everyone to join me in a great round of applause for tonight's special guest, Shannon Sharpe.