Exchange associates around the world celebrated the Army’s 224th birthday June 14. At Headquarters, Col. Collin Fortier, military outreach liaison, spoke to associates about the selfless service of Soldiers and honored the 75th anniversary of D-Day. Fortier’s remarks are below.
Remarks from Col. Collin Fortier
Before I begin my formal remarks, I would like to pause for a moment. Oftentimes in Army birthday speeches, we reverently honor the call to service of the men and women of our Army both past and present; yet, while that is completely appropriate, we sometimes neglect the simple fact that some of a Soldier’s most treasured memories happen in everyday life. It could be a character or two that they only met because of their Service, it could be an “incident” in the barracks, or it could be a time at a neighborhood block party. So, I would like to ask the audience to take a moment before we begin to reflect on your fondest memory.
Distinguished guests, service members and our Exchange family, it is such a pleasure for me to be here today as we celebrate the U.S. Army’s 244th birthday. Thank you for joining us as we honor the accomplishments and sacrifices of your Army, its Soldiers, civilians and families.
I want to begin with an acknowledgement of the Army families—current Army, our past Army, our future Army—for what you’ve done and continue to do. The sacrifices that families make are not covered in great glory or attention, but they deserve as much recognition and thanks as our Soldiers. So to the Army families, thank you.
Of course, the Exchange family here in attendance today deserves a special acknowledgement as well. Not only are 85% of you family members of present or past Service members, over a quarter of our associates are spouses or children of current Service members. Both in your roles as Exchange employees and as family members, you are truly members of the big Army family, nearly 2 million strong, so thank you for who you are and what you do today and every day to support America’s Soldiers and families across the globe.
This is my 33rd and final Army birthday in uniform, and I couldn’t be prouder of the title Soldier. Founded a year earlier than the signing of the Declaration of Independence and two years before the stars and stripes became our nation’s flag, America’s Army is our Nation’s oldest institution. Since its establishment 244 years ago, the U.S. Army has played a vital role in the growth and development of our country and without question, has been as important to the entire world as any one institution could ever be.
Just last week, we commemorated the 75th anniversary of D-Day, when 57,000 American Soldiers stormed ashore in Normandy, France, in the largest amphibious operation in history, while another 13,000 were air dropped in gliders and parachutes as America and its allies began the final push to liberate Europe. Those 70,500 American Soldiers faced an entrenched and combat-hardened enemy and they suffered more than 7,000 causalities during the initial days. As those Soldiers began to establish a foothold, they faced a significant challenge that halted their ability to advance: the hedgerows.
For centuries, French farmers enclosed their fields with hedgerows to delineate property lines and corral their livestock. The hedgerows were solid mounds of earth surrounding individual fields and growing on top were vines, brush, small trees, thorns and brambles, which intertwined and grew into solid barriers. Between three and 12 feet high and one and four feet thick, these hedgerows were formidable obstacles which prevented our breakout from the beachhead until a U.S. Army cavalry sergeant had an innovative idea.
He fashioned a set of hooked blades with some scrap iron and welded those blades onto the front of his tank. The blades sliced through the brush and plowed through the mounds of the hedgerows. Within 48 hours, over 300 variations were being crafted across Normandy and thus began Operation COBRA, one of the most brilliant combined-arms maneuver operations in history. The Normandy breakout epitomizes the enduring strength of our Army, our people.
I can tell you firsthand that today’s Soldiers follow in the footsteps of all of the Soldiers who have already answered our Nation’s call and have so proudly served for generations. Today’s Soldiers have the exact same innovative spirit, the exact same adaptability, the exact same dedication to this nation, whether serving in the Middle East, the mountains of Afghanistan, training foreign armies in Africa, Central and South America, or bolstering our allies in Europe and Asia at the tip of the spear.
Today’s Soldiers live by the principles of duty and selfless service. Today’s Soldiers stand ready to meet any threat and any challenge. They and their families continue to inspire our nation with their courage and accomplishments.