A Pre-Thanksgiving Graduation Speech for
Three Infantry Training Brigade Companies

By LTC Roy A. Krueger,
2-19th Infantry Regiment Commander
Kanell Field, Sand Hill, Ft. Benning, Georgia
Wednesday, 27 November 2002

Colonel Baldy, CSM Monk from the ITB, CW5 Guathier, Master Chief Barthold, CSM (RET) Pertie, CSM Gargac, and Dr Widener, fellow BN CDRs, CSMs, local military and civilian friends, families and friends of our soldiers, and to B Company 2-19, C Company 1-19, and F Company 2-58, welcome to the One Station Unit Training graduation ceremony for these Infantrymen before us. Your attendance here today makes a difference, it stirs emotion and it makes me proud to be an American. Speaking for all the soldiers present, I thank you for that, and I would also like to thank SFC Key and SFC Trushon from the United States Army Infantry Center band for the excellence they and their soldiers bring to these ceremonies. As a side note, PVT Marcos Cabrera from 1st PLT 2-19 IN has his father in the audience. His Dad is uniquely proud of his son, because Mr. Cabrera graduated from here on this same day in 1978. Please extend some applause for all the great folks in attendance here today.

Speaking of Thanks, we all know tomorrow is a uniquely American holiday, Thanksgiving. The holiday is based on the history of our pilgrims celebrating the fall harvest with the Native Americans who helped them get established in this new land. Thanksgiving is commonly thought of as a happy time, family and friends oriented, with the intent to give thanks for the freedoms and nourishment this land provides for us all.

I would like to offer up a thought for the graduates and visitors here today. Let's think about some things to be thankful for that often are ignored by the average American, yet in the long run are absolutely vital to our being able to live, work, and play as we do on a daily basis. One thing is the American spirit...it is unique to us and it has developed as our country has developed. It is founded on the thought that one individual can make a difference, an individual can get ahead by hard work, determination, (and a little bit of luck doesn't hurt), and that we all have inalienable rights not granted by the Constitution, but rather, reinforced by the Constitution. Our culture is different than any other in the world, and history has undeniably shown that we have a make-it-happen society.

Throughout our history, when like-thinking individuals got together, they have created great accomplishments. An example: Every military member present has sworn an oath to defend the Constitution of the United States from all enemies, both foreign and domestic. Think about that and be thankful...where I come from you are only as good as your word, and an oath is the ultimate expression of that word. We are here to defend and protect our Constitution and the ideals for which it stands. The soldiers before us have committed to this in a big way, and I can think of few more honorable ways to make such a commitment of the spirit, mind, and body. Their guiding lights in this committment process have been the Drill Sergeants, who typically put their heart and soul into their duties. Give some thanks and give a hand for both our new Infantrymen as well as their Drill Sergeants.

Let's take the thought of thanks down a notch, to a more personal level. Here is an example: today there are two ladies who have a lot to be thankful for, and yet have been saddened in that most personal of ways by the early death of their husbands. Carmen Gordon with her son and daughter, and Stephanie Shughart, each lost a husband on 3 OCT 1993. They were at home when they learned of this, doing what typical Army wives do, running a household during another long absence of their mate. MSG Gary Gordon and SFC Randall Shughart were doing what they typically did, in a helicopter over Mogadishu, Somalia, providing sniper fire protection to the crew of a helicopter that was just shot down inside enemy held territory. When they learned that no ground force was quickly available to rescue the injured crewmen they had to ask three times to be inserted before gaining approval. After insertion the two men fought their way to the crash site through small arms fire, a maze of shanties, and converging enemy forces. They pulled the wounded from the wreckage, set up a perimeter, and then fought off a series of continuous attacks. Ultimately they ran out of ammunition and were killed; however, their actions saved the life of their friend, Chief Warrant Officer Michael Durant... Carmen and Stephanies' husbands died that day to save that man. We should be respectful of and thankful for their efforts.

No one will ever know what was running through the minds of those two soldiers when they went into the fight. They volunteered to leave the safety of the sky to go to ground to save the crewmen, not even knowing for sure if any were still alive. They knew there was no ground rescue force available, and they knew there was no turning back once committed. They knew the extreme risks, and I am not talking extreme as in bungee jumping or snowboarding, but they did what they considered the only right thing to do. Your soldier will understand why they did this, although there are some in our country who wouldn't have a clue. Those men acted based on Army values: loyalty to their fellow soldiers, the duty to stand by them despite grim odds, the personal courage to act in the face of great danger, selfless service in their willingness to give their all. MSG Gary Gordon and SFC Randall Shughart, a two-man team, fought off hundreds of attackers to buy time for rescue... but rescue did not come in time. They were awarded Medals of Honor for their efforts. These men were not a fairy tale or a Public Relations story, they were the real thing. They are a sampling of what we Americans can be proud of.

This vignette demonstrates the American Spirit in two ways: one, the ultimate self sacrifice given unhesitatingly by two men who refused to leave a comrade behind, and two, by those families who have to live with that sacrifice for the rest of their lives. There is a third point here, too: folks like Shughart and Gordon have inspired us to do better, to realize that there are bigger things than just our personal, instant gratification. For that we can be thankful.

We in our way have gone to great lengths to instill a sense of these values in your soldiers. It is our mission to get them as proficient in Infantry skills as we can make them. These are our soldiers, they will deploy from here to units worldwide led by other Infantrymen who are our personal friends. These are the soldiers who might make CNN headline news. These are the soldiers who must make split second decisions that could mean life or death. These are the soldiers who next year will be hunkered down in a bunker in Korea on Christmas Eve, or patrolling the streets in a war torn village in Kosovo on New Year's Day and talking to the local kids. These men, and the other men and women in America's Armed Forces, are developing into our future leaders.

That leads to my last offering of things to be thankful for, and that is America's youth. They are what family, friends, and our culture make them. We can make them good, or we can make them bad. These men before you are good, and everyone sitting in this audience has had a part to play in their development. So have a happy Thanksgiving, and rest assured there are still good people being raised in the United States of America.

Rudyard Kipling put it another way: "Nations have passed away and left no traces, and history gives the naked cause to it-one single, simple reason in all cases; they fell because their people were not fit." The Army is here to prevent that from happening, and for that, I am thankful.

God Bless America.