Fewer of them are headed for warzones in Iraq and Afghanistan, but a top Army official told a group of newly-minted graduates of the Command and General Staff College on Fort Leavenworth Friday that they are still bound to be on the front lines.
Army Undersecretary Joseph Westphal told more than 1,000 graduates of Class 13-01 of the Command and General Staff Officer Course in an address that fell on the Army's 238th birthday at the Lewis and Clark Center that with the drawdown of two decade-long conflicts and challenges like fighting sexual assault and accommodating spending reductions waiting in the wings here, those receiving their degrees will be have the responsibility of guiding the Army into the latest of an historical series of transformations.
“You are the next 'greatest generation,'” he said, referring to the common nickname for those who became adults and served during World War II.
The other occasion that fell Friday ― that of the Army birthday, was not to go unnoticed. Westphal invoked birthdays as opportunities for new beginnings, for reinvention. It was exactly, he said, what the Army and the American military in general were about to do.
“While less of you than previous classes will embark to Afghanistan, the choices you make as you enter this new period of strategic transition will challenge our readiness, our soldiers and indeed our very culture,” he said. “This is the environment you are heading into.”
In that regard, Westphal connected the soldiers in the room Friday with the historical record. He recited the famous second sentence of the U.S. Declaration of Independence ― “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal,” and the opening line of the preamble to the U.S. Constitution.
“Think about what all those words tell us about who we are and where we have been as a nation,” he said.
The Army, according to Westphal, led westward exploration and expansion of the country, helped build its infrastructure, remained on the forefront of new medical procedures, enacted racial integration in 1948 and allowed women into combat roles early this year, and now is helping pioneer new paths and capabilities in the world of technology.
“The Army needs your experience, your ability to continue to meet these challenges head on and find opportunities as we lead our Army in the global community in the future,” he said. “As field-grade officers, you move from direct supervisors to operational managers and strategic thinkers.”
Westphal encouraged the graduates moving on to new duty stations to approach these tasks with the same “cool-headed confidence” they have displayed on the battlefield.
Page 2 of 2 - At stake is the trust and confidence that Westphal said the American military has earned both here and abroad. Lt. Gen. David Perkins, the commanding general of Fort Leavenworth, echoed that sentiment.
“This year was all about you,” he told the graduates. “Once you leave here, it's really about what you are to everybody else you come in contact with.”