WASHINGTON, Jan. 25, 2011 — The 2011 Military Health System Conference opened yesterday morning at a very snazzy hotel in National Harbor, Md.
Thousands of trim, uniformed health care professionals –- some in navy, some in camouflage, some people in khaki, some in civvies, all with tidy hair –- milled around in an orderly way before settling into a huge room where the opening session would take place.
It was a decorous opening session –- good speakers, touches of humor, some serious talk about the serious issues military medical practitioners grapple with these days.
The program guide outlined what the conference offered in learning opportunities. Breakout sessions actually were good for continuing education credit. But then again, the sessions featured topics such as “New Emerging Technology Clinical Trials Participation – Policy and Processes.”
So the opening session was rolling right along. Then somebody -– you’ll find out who –- played a video.
An Army video.
The “Army Strong” video, to be exact.
The text that appears in the “Army Strong” video — yellow on black, all caps, at a slow, one-line-at-a-time pace — follows. If you watch this on the Web, you’ll swear you hear James Earl Jones in your head as you read, but there is no actual voice in the video.
Webster defines strong as having great physical power,
as having moral or intellectual power,
as striking or superior of its kind.
But with all due respect to Webster,
and then there’s Army strong.
It is a strength like none other.
It is a physical strength.
It is an emotional strength.
It is a strength of character.
The strength to do good today,
And the strength to do well tomorrow.
The strength to obey,
and strength to command.
The strength to build,
and strength to tear down.
The strength to get yourself over,
and the strength to get over yourself.
There is nothing on this green Earth
that is stronger than the U.S. Army.
Because there is nothing on this green Earth
that is stronger than a U.S. Army soldier.
The video took that opening session straight out of decorous territory for a few minutes.
Those words, over what my broadcaster friends call a “music bed” both stately and stirring, alternated with photographs of men and women, young adults and 50-somethings, marching, running, parachuting, climbing, shooting, walking with children in other nations, holding their own children — typical soldiers doing typical soldier things, in other words. Plus images of tanks, helicopters, and so on. It was powerful.
It wasn’t decorous.
It got me thinking about the nature of soldiers, and of military people in general. They’re disciplined and professional. Military bearing is something on which members of all the services justly pride themselves. The medical audience yesterday certainly had it, but so has every other military group I’ve ever seen standing in formation, firing at a range or attending a seminar.
It was what Army Staff Sgt. Salvatore Giunta’s composed, expressionless face and straight stance displayed as President Barack Obama hung the Medal of Honor around the young soldier’s neck.
Military people know decorum.
Another side of the military nature is harder to pin down. Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, did the best job I’ve ever seen in a piece he wrote a few years back. It was called “What I Have Learned About the Army,” but the chairman zeroed in on hooah.
“There are 1,000 or 10,000 or 100,000 different ways to say hooah,” the admiral wrote. “But I learned that it is more than just a battle cry; it is a way of life. It says that you will never quit, never surrender, never leave your buddy. It says that you are proud of the hardships you have endured because there is deep meaning in every one of them.”
The chairman, of course, is exactly right. But there’s another aspect to hooah too, I think. At the bottom of every soldier is the original hopeful, scared, determined, young or not-so-young civilian who raised his hand, or her hand, and swore to protect and defend. Hooah comes from both the overlaying warrior and the underlying person. It comes from the hybrid creature called a soldier, who has an impassive military bearing and a compassionate human heart.
In a sense, the conference’s medical audience was the perfect example of this psychological mash-up. Soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines –- heroes, warriors, healers.
So yesterday, as the three-minute “Army Strong” video ended, I was delighted, but not surprised, to hear more than one full-throated “Hooah!” issue from the audience.
I don’t think the soldier responsible for playing it — Lt. Gen. (Dr.) Eric B. Schoomaker, Army surgeon general and commander of U.S. Army Medical Command — was surprised either.
“Isn’t this Army Strong video compelling?” he asked. In response: tremendous applause and a fainter “hooah, hooah” from the crowd.
He knew when he learned he would be speaking at the conference, Schoomaker said, that he wanted to open with that video.
These generals and admirals, they’re pretty sharp.
It wasn’t hard to work it in, he said, because he was asked to speak about how Army medicine supports strength and resilience among warriors and families.
Schoomaker made it clear that he respects all the services and all who wear the uniform. He speaks particularly of the Army, he said, because he’s a soldier.
“Let there be no doubt, the root of our readiness lies in the strength and resilience of this Army, and military families,” Schoomaker said. “And so it all starts with what it means to be Army strong.”
During the same opening session, Deborah Mullen, the chairman’s wife, spoke of the military families she talks to regularly around the world, and the physical and psychological toll nearly 10 years of combat have taken on uniformed men and women, their spouses and their children.
“Not unlike our troops, our families experience the same depression, anxiety, sleeplessness and headaches,” she said. “They break into cold sweats, lose concentration, suffer panic attacks, and come to dread contact with the outside world.”
Even the strongest need support.
A few hours after Schoomaker spoke, not too far away, the president announced a plan bringing in agencies across the government to strengthen military family support.
As my colleague Elaine Wilson reported, the president said, “Today, I’m proud to announce that for the first time ever, supporting the well-being of our military families will be a priority not just for the Department of Defense and the Department of Veterans Affairs, but all across the federal government.”
U.S. Department of Defense
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)