Praising the bravery, service and sacrifice of those who wear the nation’s uniform, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff told the American Legion’s annual convention Aug. 30 he is confident about the nation’s future.
“Today’s men and women, just like their predecessors, attack their mission, and do what must be done,” Marine Corps Gen. Joe Dunford told the audience in Cincinnati, Ohio.
When times are hard, they simply tighten their chin straps and they drive on,” he said, adding that service members are not focused on strategy or policy, but on “taking care of their buddies and on winning.”
It is not a coincidence, he said, because today’s service members have the role models of the past to guide them. The link between the past and present was present in today’s audience, he pointed out, from the newest American Legion member to retired Marine Corps Chief Warrant Officer Hershel “Woody” Williams, who earned the Medal of Honor as a corporal during World War II.
“I see older veterans mentoring the young, passing down the values and the qualities that make our nation great,” the chairman said, adding that he also sees the young caring for the old and a new generation of heroes who have given their lives in service.
That new generation of heroes includes two fallen service members he recently honored in his home state of Massachusetts, Dunford said: Marine Corps 1st Lt. Brian McPhillips and Army Pfc. Matthew Bean. They joined the military after 9/11 knowing their service would likely put them in harm’s way, he told the American legion audience.
America’s past, present, future
Dunford thanked the American Legion for its work on behalf of service members and 21 million veterans. The organization’s work directly supports combat effectiveness, he said.
“No generation, I would argue, has deployed with more support at home [and] more appreciation at home than the generation that currently serves,” Dunford said. “No organization is more responsible for that than the American Legion.”
The general said it is an honor to share the stage with Williams, who received the Medal of Honor for his actions during the Battle of Iwo Jima. Dunford and Williams participated in the presentation of the American Legion’s Spirit of Service Award, which recognizes outstanding service members.
Those recipients are: Army Cpl. Bryce T. Wolford, Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Levetina S. King, Marine Corps Staff Sgt. David M. Jenks, Air Force Staff Sgt. Russell H. Taylor, Air National Guard Senior Airman Igor A. Karlov and Coast Guard Petty Officer 2nd Class Geneva L. Cornelius.
The recipients highlight the nation’s most precious resource, the general said — the young men and women who serve the nation and who are its future.
No greater love: Honoring the fallen
Dunford shared the stories of McPhillips and Bean, saying they illustrate the quality, courage, competence and commitment of the men and women who follow in the footsteps of the members of the American Legion. The chairman added he is proud to have served as McPhillips’ commander in Iraq.
“Both Brian McPhillips and Matthew Bean demonstrated the timeless truth: greater love has no man than this, that he lay down his life for a friend,” Dunford said.
McPhillips was killed in action in the outskirts of Baghdad on April 4, 2003, after taking on a mission in place of a wounded Marine, he said.
“Brian McPhillips was in the battalion and volunteered to take the scout platoon under absolutely no illusion of the risk he was incurring,” Dunford said. “That mission was arguably the most dangerous mission in that formation of 20,000 Marines.”
Bean was inspired to join the military after learning of McPhillips’ death, the chairman noted. Both men were from the Massachusetts town of Pembroke.
While deployed in Iraq in May 2007, two of Bean’s fellow soldiers went missing in an ambush, Dunford said. Bean volunteered for a patrol to help find them, and took up a position on a rooftop while his unit searched door to door in the heart of the Sunni triangle.
“While providing overwatch to his fellow soldiers, Matthew was struck by a sniper’s bullet, and he succumbed to his wounds 12 days later,” Dunford said. “Inspired to service by one brother in arms, Matthew died searching for another.”
Dunford honored McPhillips and Bean two weeks ago in Pembroke, where plaques were dedicated in their memory.
Worldwide deployments, taking fight to enemy
“Today is actually a typical day for the men and women that I am proud to represent,” Dunford said, noting that more than 275,000 men and women are deployed or stationed in more than 177 countries.
“The current fight against [the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant] is our priority, and we’re taking the fight to the enemy in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan and Libya,” he said, adding that the U.S. military also supports partners and allies in West Africa, East Africa and Southeast Asia.
“As everyone here knows, it’s a global fight. But I want to make it clear that our No. 1 priority, and the reason why we’re in all those places, is to prevent an attack here in the homeland,” Dunford said.
Dunford detailed progress in the fight against ISIL, including taking terrorist leaders off the battlefield, reducing their resources and territory, and building the capacity of local forces fighting the enemy.
“Most importantly, we’ve undermined the aura of invincibility and the credibility of ISIL’s narrative: they’re being exposed for the losers that they are,” he said. “I can tell you with confidence that over the past year, we have gained the momentum.”
In addition to the missions against ISIL, service members are involved in countless other efforts in global and national security, the chairman said. Those missions include deterring Russian aggression and assuring allies, conducting patrols in seas and other waters, protecting the nation in cyberspace, and helping the recovery from the recent flooding in Louisiana, Dunford said.