Commentary: Can I Hear a ‘Hooah’?

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,
there’s strong,
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.
Army Strong.

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)

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