The lights in Thurman Auditorium dimmed, as words were flowing across the big screen on stage – commitment, strength, family, country, character, patriot, sacrifice – in a video presentation to start off “Why We Serve” Sept. 5.
The event was hosted by Lt. Gen. Bruce Crawford, Army Chief Information Officer/G6, to re-energize a dialogue of shared values, in support of the Army’s broader efforts to be ready to serve and accountable to the nation.
“You chose to be right here, sharing this experience with the Army,” said Crawford to the nearly 400 people in attendance including new military recruits from around the National Capital Region. “On behalf of the 1.4 million Soldiers and civilians of the United States Army, and the almost 180,000 who are forward-stationed, defending us so we might have the honor of participating in this ceremony, I simply say thank you.”
“Whether you are a Soldier or civilian, whether or you support the U.S. Army or any of the joint force team, you are a member of what is consistently recognized as the absolute, most trusted profession on earth – the profession of arms,” he said.
Doing things the right way at all times
Crawford recalled Army Chief of Staff Gen. Jim McConville, who told him that readiness modernization and reform remain the priorities for the Army. But his number one priority is taking care of people. McConville elaborated that when the Army goes somewhere, we don’t go to participate, we don’t go to try hard, we go to win. Winning matters, and when we win, we win by doing the right things the right way.
“Ultimately, what winning looks like is that we maintain an environment and a culture where the American people are willing to trust us,” said Crawford.
From punk kid to decorated officer
Keynote speaker, retired Maj. D.J. Skelton, said he didn’t have anything too profound or enlightening to talk about why he served. He said he was just “a punk kid growing up in South Dakota,” who was expelled from college, and quit his construction job. On the first day after getting a glimpse of what his life would be like, Shelton went to a South Dakota mall for a better job, and walked into the first office with a sign that said ‘hiring’. The office belonged to a U.S. Army recruiter and Skelton enlisted.
Between classes at the Defense Language Institute, two officers pulled him aside and asked him, “Why are you here?” He couldn’t answer their question, and they encouraged him to think hard about it, if he was serious about serving, to apply to become an officer.
“It was the first time in my life when I had been pulled aside from someone outside my family that chose to spend some time with someone they barely knew because they saw something in me that I didn’t see,” said Skelton.
That conversation changed his life and spurred his entrance into the 2003 class at West Point, and was his first valuable lesson of mentorship.
In 2004, less than a year out of Academy, Skelton was a platoon leader, preparing to deploy to Iraq. He looked at the family members on the tarmac and promised he would bring all their sons and daughters home. Two months later, during close combat in Fallujah, Skelton was severely wounded, and awoke from his coma in a hospital bed.
The next six weeks, in and out of a coma, Skelton received hospital visits from West Point professors and NCOs with whom he served. Many of them coordinated to provide meals for his family.
During his recuperation, Skelton said he had a hard time dealing with the medical board and its attitude that ‘if you lose too many limbs or eyes, or you look like this, you’re of no value to us anymore, and you’re leaving’. Despite dozens of surgeries, Skelton convinced the medical board to let him serve.
A West Point classmate of Skelton’s, the night before she heads to Afghanistan on her first deployment, asked Skelton to come for dinner because she had questions for him.
“It was the first time, as a wounded warrior, that someone looked at me through the scars and limitations, and said ‘you have knowledge that you have in your time in combat, and I want to learn from you.’”
He said he felt appreciated.
Next Generation Ready to Serve
“Why We Serve” concluded with a reaffirmation of the oath of office by officers, NCOs, civilians and, lastly, 28 new Army recruits who rose to take their first oath of office to thunderous, sustained applause. Crawford administered the oath, pointing to the newest Soldiers as the next greatest generation of leaders.
“The reason that I serve,” said Crawford, “is that I’m a believer, and I believe in you. Remember all of you…are the history of this great nation. You are its storied past, you are its resilient present and its evolving and adaptive future. Your trust in the Army, as an institution that takes care of its people will never, ever, ever be taken for granted.”