06/14/2012 10:45 am ET Updated Aug 14, 2012

Integrity, Character Define the American Service Member

Observance of the 237th birthday of the United States Army gives pause to reflect on who we are: past, present, and future.

The history of the American Service Member transcends officer and enlisted, Private and General, man and woman. Let me share a few vignettes that are representative of the thousands of stories that fill our nation's history books.

In October of 1778, Deborah Samson of Plympton, Massachusetts was motivated with the burning desire of freedom. Deborah disguised herself as a young man and volunteered for service in the War of Independence under the name of Robert Shirtliffe, and for three years, she served in combat, wounded twice. Inevitably, she was found out and discharged from the Army.

Her American Soldier spirit was so immense, George Washington himself, along with our Congress, sponsored and passed a bill to ensure she was afforded the same pension, lands, and benefits, provided to the men who served during that war.

On the 22nd of February we laid Colonel (Retired) Robert L. Howard to rest in Arlington National Cemetery. A Special Forces Soldier, Colonel Howard was our most decorated veteran from the Vietnam War. Colonel Howard received the Congressional Medal of Honor for his actions during a rescue mission of a missing American Soldier in Cambodia on December 30th, 1968. He continued to serve until 1992 when he retired after 36 years in the Army.

Years after Vietnam, Howard was asked why he spent so much time in theater. He replied; "I guess it's because I want to help in any way I can. I may as well be here where I can use my training; and besides, I have to do it -- it's the way I feel about my job."

Like the Colonel Howards and the Deborah Samsons of generations past, today's generation of volunteers is no different. On July 12, 2011, President Barack Obama awarded the Medal of Honor to SFC Leroy A. Petry for his heroic actions in the Paktya Provence, Afghanistan on May 26, 2008.

During an assault on an enemy compound, then Staff Sergeant Petry, was wounded in both legs by automatic weapons fire. Despite being shot through both legs, Staff Sergeant Petry led the other injured Ranger to cover. The enemy quickly responded by maneuvering closer and throwing grenades. The first grenade explosion knocked his two fellow Rangers to the ground and wounded both with shrapnel. A second grenade then landed only a few feet away from them.

Instantly realizing the danger to these two fallen Rangers, Staff Sergeant Petry deliberately and selflessly moved forward, picked up the grenade, and in an effort to clear the immediate threat, threw the grenade away from his fellow Rangers. As he was releasing the grenade it detonated, amputating his right hand at the wrist and further injuring him with multiple shrapnel wounds.

His gallant act undeniably saved his fellow Rangers from being severely wounded or killed.
Sergeant First Class Petry is a hero, but what makes this story even more compelling and more reassuring that our Army is in good hands, are his actions after this heroic event in May 2008. Not only did Sergeant First Class Petry chose to reenlist, but he chose to stay with the Ranger Regiment and deploy back to Afghanistan for an eighth deployment in 2010.

Yes, our Army is changing in size but our legacy and pride lives on in our soldiers.

Happy birthday to the Army, Army Strong, and God bless America.