The U.S. military is an honorable and respected profession and a way for Americans to serve something larger than themselves, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said in Boston yesterday.
Marine Corps Gen. Joe Dunford was in Massachusetts to accept the New England Council’s New Englander of the Year Award on behalf of military members.
He used the occasion to salute the worldwide contributions of service members.
“As we gather here tonight more than 275,000 of your soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines are in a 177 countries around the world,” Dunford said. The general is a New England native son, born and raised in Massachusetts and who went to college in Vermont.
He noted that service members deployed today are serving in the most volatile and complex times since World War II. They must deal with the challenges presented by Russia, China, North Korea, Iran and violent extremism.
Service members themselves are the key to any way forward for the United States, he said, and they are examples to all. He spoke about Army Sgt. 1st Class Ivan Morera, who lost his left hand in combat and spent two years not only getting back to active duty, but requalifying as a Special Forces noncommissioned officer.
He spoke about Marine Corps Cpl. Adam Seaner, an artilleryman. Seaner earned the Purple Heart medal in Iraq. The 21 year old quickly assumed leadership of his gun team after the commander was killed and got it back in action after a direct hit by an enemy rocket in Iraq.
“The reason he did it so quickly is he knew there were both Iraqi and American soldiers fighting in Mosul at that moment, and they were counting on Adam Seaner,” Dunford said.
Seaner and his fellow service members in Iraq and Syria are the reason that the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria has lost 90 percent of its territory, and why the chances of an ISIS attack on Americans has been reduced, the chairman said.
The chairman also spoke of the crew of the cruiser USS Monterrey. “That’s the most-deployed cruiser right now in the U.S. Navy,” he said. When he visited the ship and its crew had been underway for 14 of the previous 24 months.
“They were operating to ensure freedom of navigation and freedom of commerce through the Strait of Hormuz and across the Middle East,” Dunford said.
The chairman also spoke of retired Army Staff Sgt. Ryan Pitts, a son of New England born in Lowell, Massachusetts, and raised in Nashua, New Hampshire. When he enlisted, he had to get his parents’ permission. He deployed with the 173rd Airborne Brigade to Afghanistan and July 13, 2008 found him in Afghanistan’s Wanat valley.
“Just before sunrise, Ryan and 49 other paratroopers … were attacked by more than 200 Taliban,” Dunford said. “They were immediately subjected to a hail of rocket and machine-gun fire.”
Although wounded, Ryan took change of the situation. “Because of his selfless and heroic acts that day, 40 other soldiers returned home to their families to live a life in appreciation,” Dunford said. The young sergeant received the Medal of Honor.
The chairman said he could have spoken about any number of other service members’ superlative achievements.
U.S. Military ‘Can Defend Our Way of Life’
“It’s because of them that I can say with confidence that the American military can defend our way of life,” Dunford said. “I can tell you with absolute confidence that we can meet our alliance commitments around the world, and I can also tell you with absolute confidence that we have a competitive advantage over any potential adversary. You have a force that you can and should be proud of.”
All this led up to the chairman’s main point: that the military needs the help of community leaders. “Our ability to recruit and retain high-quality force today is dependent on what we call influencers,” he said. “Those are the community leaders – the teachers, the coaches and the parents – who convey to young people that military service is an honorable and a respected option. And I just ask your help in delivering that message.”
Sustaining the force depends on treating veterans with respect, the chairman said.
“George Washington had it exactly right after the American Revolution when he said, ‘The manner in which we treat our veterans will determine the willingness of future generations to serve,’” Dunford said.
While housing, health care and education are important parts of transition from military service to veteran status, employment looms larger. “When veterans come home, they want what they had in the service: They want purpose in their lives, and they simply want the opportunity to make a difference,” the general said.
Dunford asked his fellow New Englanders to welcome the veterans home and to give them jobs. He said they should do that “not because it is a charitable act, but to take advantage of their talent. I promise you that you will not only be taking care of a veteran, you’ll be making a good business decision as well.”