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Gen. Dempsey's Remarks at Military Child of the Year Ceremony

By Gen. Martin Dempsey

DEMPSEY: I’m delighted to be here, and if that invitation is true then you’re not done with me yet. And note to self, you know, don’t follow Jason Brown up here. I really mean that, as you can imagine, I get invited to do a lot of speaking engagements and there’s not many that are as personal as [inaudible]. So my deep compliments to you, and, by the way, to your family. I have, in fact my wife Deanie’s not with me here tonight for the first time, by the way and that’s because she’s with our youngest daughter who is, at any moment is going to deliver our ninth grandchild. But I gotta tell ya, I love my grandkids, but there not as well behaved as your kids. You and [inaudible] and whatever you’re doing, you ought to bottle it and infuse it into those sweet potatoes, as far as I can tell. It really was, it really was nice to sit at the table with Tim and Jason and say, Catherine, AFLAK. And Mike of course, who has done such a great job being the MC. Who has also done a great job delivering, you know, news to America, at a time when it’s pretty complicated to deliver news to America. So thanks Mike, for your support.

I am, in fact, a huge fan of Operation Homefront and what you do to support our men and women in uniform and our military families. It really is always an honor to be here over the past four years, and I maybe even snuck in as the Chief of Staff of the Army, as I look back on it now. And I said, as I said, by the way too, a sergeant that she’s not here with you tonight, but sends her regards, we are here tonight to recognize the six really incredible awardees, that Jason just described. What’s so great about this event is we’re truly celebrating all of our military children. Every day, every day, I have the pleasure of interacting with the moms and dads of our military children. I pass by their desks, when I walk through the Pentagon, and see their pictures, I see their children’s pictures, on the walls in frames and tacked up against the dividers that separate their work spaces. As you follow your parents around on this incredible journey, each of you serves the Nation, that is to say the children and the family members, who also serve our nation, in their own, very special, way. They, the parents in the room are so very proud of their children, and what I sense and what I feel deeply is that the children are just as proud of their parents. So, on nights like this, it’s great to see you all in person and together, and meet those amazing military children, who have been identified from among your peers to receive this award tonight.

As some of you know, I’m a student of history, so I’ll begin with an interesting fact that will be used when you go back to school, because at some point you should actually go back to school.  187 years ago this week, Noah Webster published the first American dictionary – what became known, over the course of time, as Webster’s Dictionary. When Noah Webster was a child, he loved learning about words and where they came from, but his school didn’t have the resources to answer all of his questions. So several years after going to college and after having fought in the Revolutionary War, he created his dictionary to improve the education of future generations.

Now, when I was young, I remember asking my mom to help spelling a word, and she would say, “Look it up in the dictionary.” And I actually never understood that, because if I couldn’t , if I didn’t know how to spell it [laughter]. But she was Irish and so, I mean, seriously, if you don’t know how to spell the word, how can you look it up in the dictionary?

But, so, reflecting now on this generation. You all have it actually a lot easier, because all you have to do is start typing it, and then, you know, somebody will auto correct it and put in a word that you never intended to have in there in the first place.
So a lot has changed since the days of Webster’s original dictionary, but some things actually remain the same. If you look up excellence, or look up the word character, or look up the word service, they mean exactly the same thing today as they did 200 years ago, in that first edition of Webster’s Dictionary. These are the qualities that actually define us as Americans and what make America great. And these are things that make all of you – our military children – so absolutely and extraordinarily special.

And that reminds me of a story. A few years ago, there was a soldier it happened to be a Soldier, I’m the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, so it could have been a Sailor, or an Airman or a Marine or a Coast Guardsman, but it happened to be a Soldier, who returned from, it’s a true story actually, who returned from Afghanistan after being deployed for a year. And many of you know how hard it is for your moms, dads, or siblings to be gone for so very long. And it’s hard on both the service members and it’s hard on the families, and it’s especially hard on the children. But as difficult as it is when they’re gone, the homecomings are absolutely fantastic experiences. I’m sure many of you remember going to meet your mom or dad, if you’re a military child, at the airport or in the fitness center or the hangar or wherever the ceremony happens to be held and the anticipation and the overwhelming excitement when you see your loved one returning for the first time and you get to rush to them and grab them around the neck and welcome them back.

Well, on this particular day, when I was commanding the first armored division, this is when this occurred; we were doing these repetitive ceremonies in this huge hangar. And on this particular day there was this huge crowd assembled waiting for this particular aircraft to discharge its load of service men and women back into the waiting arms of their families. But there was this young girl who was sitting off to the side and she was waiting, as well, for her parent I suppose. And, but she looked, there was this one particular Soldier. She probably wasn’t more than seven or eight years old. And she looked over and saw there was this one Soldier coming off of this plane and out of the formation who, there was no one there to greet him, and it turns out there was plenty of reasons there was nobody there to greet them, but this littler girl actually felt awful for the fact that nobody was there to greet this Soldier and so just before she went to her own father, she ran over to this Soldier and said “Welcome home,” and gave him a big hug. Who said, and she told him “thanks for serving” and I’ve never forgotten that because somehow this young girl just understood that there was something going on here that was special and extraordinary and she wanted to be part of it. It wasn’t just about her or about her family, but about the military family. And I’ll never forget that, and it was an extraordinary moment and one that I think defines what makes military children so extraordinary in our lives. 

So that’s what makes the military child so important. And here’s a word for you to look up. Ready for this? Self-abnegation. Now look, I’ve got a Masters in English from Duke University, right? So, you’ve got to find words that really make no sense at all. That no one will ever use correctly in a sentence, and frankly that no one really cares about. But there is a word actually called self-abnegation, and it means this, it means being willing to put others first in the service of a greater good. You can look it up or you can Google it, whatever you choose. So whether it’s creating a dictionary for future generations, or a military family putting their reunion on hold to welcome someone else back, or walking away from an NFL career to help feed families in need like our keynote speaker, Jason, the people that truly inspire us, when you reflect on it, are those who make service to others a priority.

Our awardees tonight have done exactly that. They’ve pursued excellence. They’ve made it a priority to serve others. They’ve inspired us. And they’ve done it with character. The Nation is depending on each of us to do the same—to continue this American tradition, and it is a uniquely American tradition, of excellence and to make our mark in life, in the service of others.

I’m really, incredibly proud, honored, to be the Chairman of such an incredible fighting force, and the incredible military families who support them. This Nation asks a lot of each of you, of each of us, and you continue to prove day in and day out that you are strong, that you are resilient, you’re full of love for our country and for each other. Our winners tonight, those of you who have been recognized among your peers, are perfect examples of the stellar quality of military kids and we’re so very fortunate to have you in our military family.

God bless our military families, God bless their children, and God bless America.