Maj. Gen. Lynn Collyar stood before a group of about 1,000 business, community, veteran and Soldier leaders and felt, in his words, quite honored.
For the new commander of the Aviation and Missile Command and a Huntsville native, being asked to be the keynote speaker at the Huntsville/Madison County Chamber of Commerce's annual Armed Forces Celebration Week's Salute Luncheon was a compliment that he truly appreciated.
Looking out into the audience at the Von Braun Center's North Hall at the luncheon June 13, Collyar noted the "great turnout" and specifically called attention to the veterans in the audience, saying he was "honored" to speak on behalf of the community's military, and to be given the responsibility to carry on a "legacy you pass on to us as we try to fill your shoes."
The Army's birthday -- June 14, 1775 -- marks the day when 10 companies of young men enlisted in the Continental Army to fight for U.S. freedom. And even though changes have come along the way, including the formation of the Navy, Marines, Coast Guard and Air Force, the Army continues to stand tall.
"Throughout all of those years, we've had people serving and they have done everything they have been called on to do, and they've been doing that for 237 years without fail," Collyar said.
Today, the Army is more than 1 million Soldiers strong, serving in 150 countries around the world.
"We have the best trained Soldiers, the best equipped Soldiers and the best led Soldiers the Army has ever had," he said. "The experience level we have today is incredible."
But that's only been made possible because of the support the Army receives today from the American public.
"It wouldn't have happened without you," Collyar said. "Some of you who have stood up in the past didn't experience that same level of support. It's because of you that the military gets the recognition it gets today. … The fight you all fought over the years made the difference for today's Soldiers."
The Soldiers of today have earned the respect of the American public and their senior leadership through the ability to take on significant responsibilities and leadership roles in theater, he said.
Collyar is a 2000-01 graduate of the Army War College, which instructs high-level military personnel and civilians, and prepares them for strategic leadership responsibilities. He recently gave a graduation speech at the Army's Captains Career Course, which prepares company grade officers to command and train at the com¬pany, battery or troop level and to serve as staff officers at battalion and brigade levels. Those attending the Captains Career Course have an average five years of Army service, yet many have more experience with leadership than most in Collyar's War College class.
"There was more combat experience in that Captains Career Course than in my War College class," the major general said. "Captains, today, are doing things that it once took colonels to do.
"It's routine every day to Soldiers at the E-5 and E-6 (sergeants and staff sergeants) levels to make decisions. In theater, they are in charge of 30-person convoys going through bad areas and making decisions affecting their Soldiers every kilometer along the way."
Case in point, Collyar mentioned the experience that Staff Sgt. Salvatore Augustine Giunta now carries with him as one of the few living recipients of the Medal of Honor. He received the award for actions he took to save the lives of his squad members on Oct. 25, 2007 in Afghanistan.
In a nationally televised interview about his experience, Giunta said "I'm an average Soldier. In fact, I'm a mediocre Soldier. I just did what anybody else would have done to take care of their buddies."
The interviewer then asked Giunta that, if he is a "mediocre Soldier" then what does that make other Soldiers who are serving.
To that, Giunta replied "If I'm mediocre, just think how good the rest of them are."
Collyar said public surveys show the military ranks at the top or near the top with the "trust factor."
"That trust allows us to do our job every day," he said. "That trust is between Soldier and Soldier, between Soldiers and leaders, between Soldiers and their families and the Army, and between Soldiers and the American people. It's that trust that empowers us to really do our jobs."
Besides servicemembers, Collyar also spoke about the Army's 280,000 government civilians, and the 23,000 government employees that are deployed with Soldiers along with a multitude of contractors.
"Not having the resources to have a draft Army requires you to step up," he told the civilians in the audience.
Besides those civilians, the Army leans on its Soldiers' families and friends to ensure Soldiers get the support they need to do their job.
"Without our families we wouldn't be the Army we are today. … Those are the people who stand side by side with our Soldiers," Collyar said. "They are the ones that make sure our Soldiers have something to come home to. They keep the flame going."
So, too, does the community, and a community like Huntsville is known for giving its Soldiers the support they need to do their job, whether they are active duty stationed at Redstone Arsenal or Reserve or National Guard Soldiers.
"This community has such a great reputation across the services for doing the right thing. It was very easy to come back here," said Collyar, who grew up in Huntsville while his parents worked on the Arsenal and who has returned here with his wife, Col. Sarah Green.
"It's a great place to come back to. Who wouldn't want to come back here? We're very proud to be back."
Collyar's address was his first public appearance since taking command of the Aviation and Missile Command on June 1.
"It is incredibly rare for a native son to return to his hometown to head the command that in many ways defines this community. We couldn't be happier or more fortunate," Joe Fitzgerald, chairman of the Armed Forces Celebration Committee, said.
Jim Bolte, chairman of the Chamber of Commerce, thanked Collyar for being the Salute Luncheon's keynote speaker, saying "You understand the important relationship between the members of our armed forces and their families, and Redstone Arsenal and this community. We are here to support you in any way that we can and hope that you will be quick to call on us."
Sponsors for the Salute Luncheon included Northrop Grumman as the presenting sponsor. Gold sponsors were: DynCorp International, General Dynamics Information Technology, Aranea Solutions Inc., Lockheed Martin Corporation, The Boeing Company, Yulista Management Services Inc., Dynetics Inc. and the Madison County Commission. Silver sponsors were: TASC, QinetiQ North America, PeopleTec Inc. and SAIC (Science Applications International Corporation). Bronze sponsors were: ERC Inc., Harris Corp., The Huntsville Times, Radiance Technologies Inc. and Systems Products and Solutions Inc. And corporate sponsors were: Aegis Technologies Group Inc., Aerojet, BAE Systems, Business Council of Alabama, EADS North America, First Financial Group Wealth Mantgement, Fyffe Construction Co., General Dynamics C4 Systems, Holiday Inn-Downtown, L-3 Communications Corp.-Huntsville Operations, Maynard Cooper & Gale, P.C., Parsons, Phoenix, PPT Solutions Inc., Sigmatech Inc., and Wyle CAS Group.