The Army traces its birth to 14 June 1775, when the Continental Congress called for the formation of ten companies of expert rifleman. George Washington was the Army’s first commander. The Army is the nation’s oldest and largest service and its flag has 183 campaign streamers.  The Army’s history is the nation’s history. Even a quick scan can cause one’s eyes to roll as well known names like Lexington, Gettysburg, Normandy, TET, Liberation of Afghanistan or Iraq merge with names like Chapultepec, Apaches, Peking, Ryukyus and the Third Korean Winter. When all the Army’s campaign streamers are attached, the Army flag weighs approximately 30 lbs, or the weight of an M240 machinegun, a suitable metaphor for the 80% share of freedom’s bill paid in blood over our nation’s 237 years.

The Army and soldiers in general don’t make a big deal about the Army’s Birthday.  It’s not that there’s a lack of pride in service or the Army, but actually a manifestation of Army culture. This is present throughout the Army and seen in even its most elite and celebrated units. There’s a reason newspapers are not filled with the day to day exploits of Army units over the last decade, and some of the most difficult research topics are the operations of Army special operations units. It’s not that they aren’t busy. It’s just that publicizing their exploits are often literally the last priority. Many outside of the Army mistake the lack of Army celebration for something else.

The Army’s culture (or personality) is a product of its founding, mission, history and make up. Carl Builder, a senior operations research specialist at Rand Corp for almost 30 years, wrote a seminal study on American military strategy and culture called the Masks of War. Paraphrasing Major Rhett B. Lawing’s (USMC) summary of Builder’s perspective of Army culture in Air & Space Power Journal – Chronicles Online Journal:

“…the Army, as the most altruistic of the services, worships at the altar of the “country” through selfless service and personal sacrifice. The Army, accepts the cyclic expansion and contraction induced by shrinking budgets, peace dividends and shifting national interests, but still measures itself by end strength. A soldier places the art of soldiering above the toys and tech of his profession. Intra-service distinctions, play out very simply as traditional combat arms of infantry, artillery, and armor are held in the highest regard while the others are relegated to support roles. However, Builder found a greater cohesiveness between Army branches than in either the Air Force or the Navy. The Army has no significant insecurities concerning its legitimacy or relevancy. Despite its inarguable importance to national defense, the Army has often been forced to accept and adapt to massive force structure cuts and loss of capabilities due to national budgetary concerns. This has created the ability to find ways to accomplish assigned missions without the resources normally deemed necessary to complete the task.”

If the Army were a person he’d wear blue jeans, a flannel shirt with rolled up sleeves and little to no bling. A solid worker who identifies with the average guy, yet utterly devoted to those he works for to the point that he willingly sacrifices personal comfort or interests. He takes pride and purpose in that unselfish dedication and maintains a “git’r dun” approach to any task. He sees his role as the final defender of those he serves. These qualities are portrayed in the beginning of the Army mission statement and its motto.

“The Army’s mission is to fight and win our Nation’s wars…” & “This We’ll Defend”

Just an insight when one wonders why Army recruiting commercials are relatively weak, why the Army places little emphasis on publicizing its accomplishments, is the least adroit in manipulating Congress, and doesn’t make a really big deal about its birthday. There are reasons soldiers have been called, “Yankee Doodle”, “Jonny Reb”, “Billy Yank”, “Doughboy”, “Dogface”, “G.I. Joe” and “Grunts.” Not sexy, but there is a nobility in modesty.

Maybe that’s why, while I’m happy over the Army’s 238th birthday, I’m more excited that it’s Flag Day, because that’s what it’s really all about.