Feb 26, 2008
BGen Robert E. Milstead, Jr., Director, Marine Corps Public Affairs on 19 February, 2008 addressing the Wounded Warriors Foundation in Charlotte, N.C.
Thank you and good evening.
Thanks for that introduction… but to introduce me as the mouthpiece of the Marine Corps is an exaggeration to say the least. Regardless, it’s an honor to be here this evening and to support such a worthwhile cause as the Wounded Warrior Foundation.
Today is a very special date in the history of our Corps. Sixty-three years ago today, at 0859, the first assault waves of the 4th and 5th Marine Divisions landed on the beaches of Iwo Jima. Before that battle was over, the Marines would suffer 26,000 casualties 6,000 Marines were killed taking that island. Twenty-two Marines were awarded Medals of Honor, the most ever awarded for a single engagement. On an island only 7+ square miles in size, almost 100,000 men were locked in mortal combat. 21,000 Japanese died in place. It is said that for every piece of terrain the size of a football field, one Marine was killed and five were wounded. But before I continue, I’d like to acknowledge Admiral Spiro, he’s sitting over here. He was on a Destroyer off the coast of Iwo Jima that morning providing fire support to the Marines. Admiral, thank you for your service, especially during World War II.
Why do I begin my remarks speaking of Iwo Jima? Because it is the benchmark we Marines use to judge all other battles. Also because it speaks to valor and determination two key characteristics we see in the young men and women serving today in this global war on terror. This is a generational conflict, and we are closer to the beginning than we are the end.
In my current assignment, I am often asked by the media and others about the health of our Corps. How do I reply? Tonight I will tell you what I tell them. We are indeed in good health. Our Corps is in the best shape I have seen during my 33 years of service. The young men and women serving today are our nation’s next greatest generation. They are taking the baton from the likes of Admiral Spiro. I have been in combat with them twice, and can say they are a national treasure, they are our future leaders and we are in good hands.
Speaking specifically about our Corps. We are the youngest of all the services. The average age is 24. Approximately 65% of the Corps is under the age of 25. Almost a quarter populates that beloved rank of Lance Corporal. We have almost 26,000 teenagers. Last year we recruited over 38,000 young men and women, 95% of them high school graduates, and every one of them joined knowing full well they will likely move toward the sound of cannons. This year we are well on our way to recruiting another 40,000. This is a generation that understands the meaning of service. As long as we continue recruiting men and women like this, our Corps will remain healthy.
Several months ago I had the privilege of being the reviewing officer for a graduation parade at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot in San Diego. Standing out on that parade deck were six platoons, 571 young men lean and mean after the rigors of boot camp. I asked the battalion commander who was the honor graduate. He told me it was a Lance Corporal Sanchez, from Baytown, Texas. I asked if his parents were there. Yes sir, he answered, they are in the reviewing stand behind you. I want to meet them, I said. Mr. and Mrs. Sanchez were indeed proud parents. Taking her hand in mine, I thanked Mrs. Sanchez for giving us her son and told her that although I couldn’t guarantee his safety, I would guarantee he’d be taken care of. With tears in her eyes, she explained this was not her first. You see, both LCpl Sanchez’s older brother and sister were already Marines, and another sister was a Navy corpsman. I will tell you that as long as we have American families like the Sanchez family, our Corps will remain healthy.
I’ll then tell of the wounded Marines I met while visiting Brooke Army Medical Center and the Army Burn Center in San Antonio. I’ll tell of the young Lance Corporal who was burned when his vehicle was hit by an IED. His face is not bad at all, he looks if he merely has some road rash. But his hands are pretty badly burned and his therapy is painful. Mustering some courage, I asked him if he felt it was worth it. His reply was as you’d expect from a Marine, and I’ll clean it up some, “F-ing A sir, no regrets. I’d do it again in a second.” So I’ll tell you that as long as we have young men like him, our Corps will remain healthy.
I’ll also talk about the Corporal I met down there at the burn center. Now he was burned much worse. He still wears a protective cap and gloves and has had 37 surgeries. He tells of the time, when he could finally go out in town, of coming out of a restaurant, and a small child, as honest and straight-forth as only a child can be, said in a voice that he could hear, “look mommy, it’s a monster.” That child’s mother, instead of whisking her son away in embarrassment, got down on a knee, and looking her son in the eyes said, “no honey, that’s not a monster, that’s a very brave man who was badly hurt protecting you and me. You need to go over and thank him.” And with trepidation as you can imagine, the young child walked over, and reached out his hand taking the corporal’s gloved hand in his, and said “thank-you.” The corporal will tell you that as long as there are people like that, he can endure another 37 operations. I will tell you that as long as there are mothers like that child’s, our Corps will remain healthy.
As I close, I will offer you a couple of figures… There are about 1.5 million of us in the active forces that wear a uniform. If you add all the reserves and the National Guard, the total is somewhere close to 3 million. That is only 1% of our nation’s population. We are a military at war, not a nation at war. Unfortunately, many Americans just don’t get it. But you get it. Oh yeah, you get it. If you didn’t, you wouldn’t be here tonight. So I’ll end by saying that as long as we have folks like you, our Corps will remain healthy.
Thank you for being here tonight, thank you for your support of our brave servicemen and women, and especially thank you for your support of our wounded warriors. God bless you. I pledge your Marine Corps will remain healthy, and Semper Fidelis.