RENO, Nev. (Sept. 11, 2012) -- On the eve of today's 11th anniversary of the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the chief of staff of the Army paid tribute to the role of the National Guard in the immediate aftermath and in the years since.

Gen. Raymond T. Odierno also said 9/11 made America stronger.

"That day changed the lives of Americans forever," Odierno said. "And it will continue to impact generations of Americans. But, as in the past, our enemies underestimated the will, the pride, and patriotism of Americans. I believe these attacks have made America stronger, creating a spirit of service in the hearts of a new generation of Americans."

Air National Guard pilots were in the air within minutes of the attacks, and Army National Guard members responded on the ground -- including some who simply showed up at readiness centers without even waiting to be called.

"Our citizen-Soldiers were the first to respond," Odierno told attendees at the 134th National Guard Association of the United States General Conference here. "Within days -- within hours -- of the terrorist strikes, Operation Noble Eagle mobilized Guardsmen around the country to provide security on military installations, airports and other key infrastructure, as well as to patrol America's borders."

"And our total Army has been essential to our plans for the last 11 years: We have a true and proven operational Reserve, with experience that comes from more than 675,000 mobilizations," he continued. "Fifty percent of our Guard Soldiers today are combat veterans, many in support of Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom. National Guard Soldiers continue to provide support to our civil authorities around the nation in a variety of missions."

In recent weeks, Guard members from multiple states have responded in the thousands to support civil authorities in the aftermath of Hurricane Isaac, battle wildfires and provide security for both the Republican and Democratic political conventions, Odierno said.

"These missions, both overseas and in support of our civil authorities, are critical," he said.