9/11 changed more than the skyline of New York City — the attacks changed a generation of Americans, the Army, and the world.
That day’s destruction and devastation did not condemn the United States to a future filled with fear. No, this loss, as profound as it was, did not break the soul of the nation. It made the country stronger.
That day fortified Americans with pride and patriotism and created a spirit of service in the hearts of a new generation. That day fundamentally changed the nation and the U.S. Army.
The Army has become more versatile to adapt to a changing and volatile world. Following 9/11, it has modernized its brigades, gained depth and versatility with the transformed role of the Army Reserve and Army National Guard, and made significant changes in how to integrate Special Operations Forces.
For the first time, the country has faced the last decade of conflict with an All-Volunteer Army. Those volunteers wanted to be part of something greater, and they have done just that. Many were just in grade school 11 years ago, watching the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan unfold on the news. They joined the ranks of the Army knowing they could be sent into harm’s way. They wanted to honor the nation with their willing service and sacrifice. And by signing their names to join the Army, they have become the authors of history.
In the last 11 years, more than 1.3 million men and women have deployed. Their actions etched new chapters of American history on ancient places like Mosul and Fallujah; Korengal and Kandahar.
Though 6,000 service members have died in these conflicts, and 40,000 have returned home wounded or injured, their profound sacrifice is the heavy shadow cast by the brilliant light of their uncommon courage and valor — common virtues for this generation.
In the last 11 years, the Army alone has awarded more than 14,000 Awards of Valor, more than 600 Silver Stars, 23 Distinguished Service Crosses, and six Medals of Honor. This is what an All-Volunteer Army can do; now, this All-Volunteer Force faces more changes.
While the nation faces economic hardships, the Army must change again. It is a time of austerity and a time of uncertainty – not just in a financial sense, but also in regard to global security. The world is getting more complicated, and America will face a wide range of global challenges: slowdowns in the global economy, increasing competition over scarce natural resources, or the influence of extremist groups.
The war in Iraq is over, operations in Afghanistan will soon come to end, and the Army is in the process of getting leaner. By 2017, the Army, number-wise, will look a lot like the Army of 2001, but it is very different from a decade ago.
Even with all these variables, one thing will never change. The Army is always about its Soldiers. The Army is not about equipment; it is not about things; it is about people – people who stand together; who stand next to the Soldiers and their Families during this period of transition; who stand next to Wounded Warriors as they heal and adapt;; who stand beside the Families grieving loved ones, who died in service to the nation.
The Army remains committed to its 94,000 Soldiers deployed, and as it navigates through this time of change, America’s Army will continue its long tradition of answering the nation’s call. At the same time the Army will continue to stand by its Soldiers and their Families as they face challenges that may lie ahead.