Happy 233rd Birthday to the United States Army

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Kemp Chester
  • 344th Military Intelligence Battalion commande
This month we celebrate the 233rd Birthday of the United States Army. Since the very birth of the Republic, our Constitution, our people, and our land have been supported and defended by an unbroken line of U.S. Army Soldiers -- proud young men and women who have answered the call to duty for generations. It is the Soldiers who make the Army what it is, and it is those Soldiers who will ensure the continued success of our Army for generations to come.

One of the more rewarding aspects of commanding the 344th Military Intelligence Battalion is the ability to see our Army regenerate itself every single week. Each Monday I have the opportunity to welcome new Soldiers to the battalion. Some come directly from Basic Combat Training, some from the Defense Language Institute, and some from other locations where we transition previous military service members back into the Army after a lengthy stint in the civilian world.

Later each and every week, I also have the opportunity to speak to Soldiers at their graduation ceremonies as they leave this training environment and take their place in the Army among the men and women around the world who wear the Army uniform and are serving our Nation. Over the past year, the 344th MI Battalion has graduated more than 1,587 Soldiers and NCOs from the 21 different courses we teach at Goodfellow Air Force Base, Fort Huachuca, Arizona, and Corry Station, Pensacola, Florida. We are enormously proud of our Soldiers and equally proud of the fact that we send every one of them off fully prepared to contribute to their first duty assignments; fit, disciplined, motivated, and well-trained.

Recruiting young Americans who have the skills, desire, and ability to become fully trained Soldiers is not just a challenge for the Army, it is a challenge for the entire Nation. Today more than 8,300 Soldiers and NCOs serve as recruiters throughout the United States. They work with schools, employers, parents, and prospective Soldiers in an effort to find the very best qualified young men and women willing and able to take their place in our Army. Recruiters work long hours, nights, and weekends to find young people with the right skills and attributes for Army service, and then work closely with each of them to find the Military Occupation Specialty that best suits their skills and that they will find beneficial and rewarding.

Last year 170,000 young Americans -- about the population of Brownsville, Texas -- made the decision to join our Army. This is a remarkably high number given the fact that this is the first time in history when we have been engaged in a protracted war with an all-volunteer Army. Additionally, rising obesity rates among our youth and a significant percentage of young people who fail to graduate high school add to the recruiting challenge. It is estimated that only three of every ten young people aged 17-24 are even qualified to enlist in the Army. In spite of those challenges, the quality of the young men and women who enter our Army remains enormously high. Last year, our recruiters assessed into the Army 3,200 young people with bachelor's degrees, 250 with master's degrees, and 20 with doctorates.

An added challenge is retaining those Soldiers already serving in the Army; those who have served their initial tours and are facing the decision to stay in the Army or returning to civilian life. Last year, the percentage of our Soldiers and NCOs deciding to renew their commitment to their profession remained incredibly high, and the Army met or exceeded its retention objectives in every category; 112 percent for Regular Army Soldiers, 119 percent for Army Reservists, and 100 percent for National Guard Soldiers. In both recruiting and retention, the Army has done remarkably well in meeting its obligation to attract and retain the high quality all-volunteer Army so crucial to our success in the Global War on Terror.

On May 17th I had the enormous honor of participating in Army Appreciation Night at the San Angelo Stampede Express game as a guest of the U.S. Army Recruiting Station here in San Angelo. At half time I administered the oath of enlistment to 10 young men and women in the middle of the field in front of their friends, families, and this community that is so supportive of our military. At the time I stated that these 10 proud Americans are the future of the United States Army. Before long, they will be off to Basic Combat Training, then to Advanced Individual Training, and then off to join their units; arriving at their first duty assignments fit, disciplined, motivated, and well-trained.

As we celebrate the birthday of the United States Army this month, we must never forget to appreciate the generations of young men and women who have stepped forward to serve the Nation as Soldiers. The Soldiers who train here in the 344th MI Battalion, and the hundreds of thousands of their fellow Soldiers serving around the world at this moment, are the essential and irreplaceable component that makes the Army what it is today, and they are the ones who will secure its success in the years to come.