Representing America to the rest of the world is something that we all take great pride in. We know what a privilege it is to represent our country overseas. Of course, representing our nation is not an experience entirely unique to the military.
I recently had the honor of presiding over a dog tag exchange with our country’s best basketball players as they were preparing for the 2014 International Basketball Federation World Cup. Servicemembers from across the joint force presented a set of dog tags to each member of Team USA. Sergeant Major Bryan Battaglia, USMC, presided over a similar ceremony in June for the national soccer team as it was departing for Brazil. In both instances, the athletes and Servicemembers were honored and excited to be a part of the ceremony.
Chairman speaks with U.S. military officers before ISAF and U.S. Forces–Afghanistan change of command ceremony August 26, 2014, in Kabul, during which Marine Corps General Joseph F. Dunford, Jr., relinquished command to Army General John F. Campbell (DOD/Sean K. Harp)
Dog tags are an iconic symbol of the military and have been representative of the sacrifices inherent in military service since their debut on the battlefields of the Civil War. For the men and women who wear them, dog tags are a personal and profound reminder of what it means to represent the United States of America. They are a symbol of courage and a representation of the trust we share with our teammates, our leaders, and the Nation that supports us.
On the front of these particular dog tags are the American flag and the words “Leadership, Service, and Teamwork.” While these are values we hold dearly in the Profession of Arms, they are also shared values that are important to all Americans.
Service has always been fundamental to being an American, and the greatness of our nation stems from our collective willingness to serve others. Across our country, police officers, firefighters, teachers, coaches, pastors, Scoutmasters, business people, and many others serve their communities every day. No matter the uniform, the desire to contribute permeates every corner of the United States. Exchanging these dog tags highlights that common commitment to our country and its ideals.
Over the past decade, the American people have provided unwavering support to our military family. For that strong support, I am extremely thankful. Looking ahead, we need to think about how we will continue to connect with America. The American people appreciate what we do when we are called on to fight in faraway places. Less understood are the ways we continue to serve in our communities when we take off our uniforms—whether at the end of the day or at the end of our careers.
These dog tag exchanges are the first step in a Department of Defense initiative to inspire an enduring commitment to service and to enrich local communities across America through the influence of the U.S. military and the popularity of American sports. Through this Commitment to Service, athletes and members of the military will work together—on panels, workshops, and service projects—to make a difference in our communities.
Commitment to Service tips off this Veterans Day with service projects conducted in partnership with the National Basketball Association. This initiative with the NBA is one way we can help others better understand the military and find innovative ways to address the needs of the communities in which we live and work.
These efforts will showcase the pride that all of us have in representing our country, whether in athletic attire or a military uniform. Servicemembers and athletes will work side by side to serve their communities and demonstrate the value of not only military service, but also service that aims to better our country and contribute to the common good.
Sparking a Commitment to Service
This is not a military appreciation program focusing on what Americans can do for Servicemembers. Rather, Commitment to Service focuses on what we can do with our fellow citizens for America. It is a program of appreciation by the military for our great nation and the communities that support us. Through Commitment to Service we can continue to serve others and help foster a broader spirit of service across the country.
Every day I am honored to put on my uniform and represent the Servicemembers who make up today’s joint force. For the last 3 years, it has been my privilege to tell the story of your military service to the American people. Often untold, however, is the story of your commitment to our local communities and your willingness to continue service, even out of uniform. Over the course of the next year, I will be highlighting the contributions, beyond their military service, that Servicemembers and Veterans make to our communities. The Commitment to Service initiative is one way of showcasing those contributions.
I hope you will join me in this effort. JFQ
Martin E. Dempsey
General, U.S. Army
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff