Not an Army of One

For a few years, the United States Army’s recruiting slogan was, “An Army of One.” Unlike the slogan, “Be All You Can Be,” or other ones that were used for over twenty years, “An Army of One” was introduced in 2001 and retired only a handful of years later in 2006.

My husband and I were privileged to spend this week with senior officers and their spouses. We both had the honor of speaking at the Army’s 2019 Religious Leaders Symposium which gathered chaplains stationed around the world for sessions designed to equip them to better help their troops.

It became clear to us why, “An Army of One,” failed. Although it was probably designed to encourage young people to recognize how serving in the Army would benefit them and allow them to maximize their individual potential, it missed the boat. One of the strongest gifts of army life is that you are not alone; you are part of a community and family.

The military community is formed with one’s fellow troops as you bond while fulfilling a common mission under stressful conditions. Speaking to the chaplains’ wives (there are female chaplains but no husbands attended my session) I saw another reason that this slogan didn’t ring true. Like you, I have often wanted to express my gratitude to members of the military when I pass them in airports. They are most recognizable, of course, if they are in uniform. Yet, every chaplain I met this week, didn’t sign up as an individual. While not issued a uniform, his wife and family are full partners in his service.

The women I met were strong, courageous and resourceful. Like any good soldier, they recognize the importance of the mission and subordinate their personal desires and needs to that mission. Like other military wives, the task of raising children falls disproportionately on them. They continue to build their homes despite continual packing up and moving around the United States and the world as their husbands are assigned to new bases. They manage their emotions as their husbands are deployed to active war zones, the women’s imaginations supplying information their husbands cannot share with them. These women form a sisterhood that celebrates joyous occasions and mourns tragedies together. As chaplains’ wives, they must be role models and pillars of support for others on the base, often under crushing circumstances. They too are part of the military family. An army of one? Not in the slightest.


26 thoughts on “Not an Army of One”

  1. As a Marine and former CIA officer I served for twenty years, even at 70 subject to recall. Most of what I did is still under wraps and I suppose always will be. However, I do not want those closest to me to me to know the horrors that exist at the edges of civilization. In some parts of the world the horror it is the culture.

    Dedicated men and women in uniform and out are working to change that, some of them never come home. Friends and family never learn how they died and understanding why is ephemeral. In that sense it is an army of one. It is why we send our finest and most worthy into combat on foreign shores.

    Today my son, an IDF officer is watching my grandson take his oath as an IDF recruit, shortly so will his brother and sister as their 18th year comes around. I have mixed emotions. However, I know deep down they are defending from harm the soul of our people and the freedoms G-d desired we and all people have.

    1. I know that many people here will be praying for your family, Steve. Thank you for your contribution and your take on the phrase.

  2. PS Susan, I went to high school in Twentynine Palms, CA which is home to the largest United States Marine Corps training center in the Mohave Desert. Back then, I said that I never wanted to marry a “Marine!” And later, perhaps because of my grandfather and his history and because my husband was a gentleman, I married one. Military men and women are trained to make decisions based upon surviving attacks, hence the name Dept. of Defense. When people see our attacks they sometimes criticize us for them, but they should realize that our leaders hope to defend us from enemies planning to terminate us; this is the epitome of our defense against those insidious ideas. Like marriage, this exceptional America is worth defending even if it offends others. We work as soldiers in a solid ‘Army of Many’ (individuals) striving to defend the ideas that have already MAG! (Or that Make America Great!)

    1. There is great misunderstanding of the military in the general culture, LJ. Thanks for helping to spread the reality.

  3. A similar problematic slogan entered into the Marine Corps as well, and I’ll mention it after this first comment. My husband served in both Operation Desert Shield & Storm as a Tank Platoon Commander, and then he served in Operation Restore Hope. Growing up, my legal guardians were my mother’s parents; my grandfather (captured while serving in the USMC as an Embassy Guard) had previously been a POW held by the Japanese for nearly four years in North China and then in Japan by the end of WWII. He later served in the US Army and he fought in the Korean War. My husband used to say that if the USMC wanted Marines to have wives they would’ve issued them. It’s more difficult to be in the Marines due to the stress and ‘first in’ and my grandfather had joined the Army because he said that he was tired of marching! And my grandmother used to tell me that my grandfather was married to the Army first and then to her. My own husband resigned his full-time USMC Officer’s Commission because he said that family life would be very difficult if he chose to stay in the Marines. He did, however, serve for the next seven years after serving his four year commitment (in both the USMCR as a Tank Platoon Captain and then in the IRR; the R means the reserves and the IRR means the individual ready reserves.)

    Back to the Marine slogan which was that Marines had: Honor, Courage, and Commitment. After my husband was honorably discharged during Pres. Clinton’s administration the new slogan became: ‘A sense of Honor, Courage, and Commitment.’ We were stunned by the idea that feelings now played into the slogan. Marines now had a ‘SENSE of Honor, Courage, and Commitment?’ That slogan detail didn’t make any sense to us.

    We have a good friend who has recently retired from the Army (and he now works as a Civilian with his group. He has loaded onto planes many of his younger fellow soldiers who didn’t survive war. Many were single, some were engaged, and others were married. We always pray and thank these fine groups for their duty to their fellow American men and women, but also for their duty to mankind. Our military is one of the most compassionate serving on this planet! It is important for us to express gratitude and to pray mightily for these people who serve together during the good and the bad times while in training, combat, or off-duty. Many in our defense department community serve humbly, earning little in exchange for their service (we didn’t take food stamps but we qualified for them; and a few of my husband’s fellow Marines also qualified for food stamps.) While there are some rogue people, many more are compelled by a higher calling to help others and all of them need our support.

    1. Thank you for sharing your experience. I wonder what the thinking behind that change of Marine slogan was.

      1. Good day, Susan, we never did learn why the Marine Corps changed their slogan at that time. And a quickie google search turned up the fact that the Marine Corps lists its values as ‘Honor, Courage, and Commitment.’ However the Marine Corps Times has a 2017 article titled, “‘The Few, The Proud’ on hold as Marine recruiting slogan.” The greatest goal of the USMC, in my opinion, is its focus to do what needs doing to succeed in every mission, and to win in every battle. It may not always play out that way, and ultimately service in this force is the call of duty.

        It’s really great that you and RDL had the opportunity to speak with those soldiers and their spouses. My family and I are grateful for each service member, their families, and their communities. We choked up reading Steve Lancaster’s comments about his son and his grandchildren. We’re awestruck and humbled by such folks!

  4. Well not sure where all these thoughts are about or where they are going? I served in the military, 70’s time frame. Big Big difference between officers and enlisted or lower grade soldiers. Just like any other origination the military has good and bad people of all types. Most everyone comes together when tragic times come like war or combat. But during every day business as usual the bad is still in those that are bad.
    One man army; if I am not mistaken comes from the Bible. My depiction of One Man Army is the stories of Mosses in the desert with the Jews doing as God instructed and following His words as He instructed. And when they did not do as they were instructed they were cursed and things did not go right. The point is, if we do not follow Gods way, don’t expect good things to come.

  5. Loved this. I feel this way about all the military families connected to the soldiers. They all serve not just the one out there putting his or her life on the line for the rest of us. If the soldier wins the whole family wins and if he looses or is lost it affects the whole family. Thanks for speaking and loving these military families.

    1. As you know, Susan, in many families the children follow the parent’s military path. So the family is often supporting on more than one generational level. That family – spouse, parents, siblings, children – deserves our thanks.

  6. Such a wonderful tribute to some truly amazing heroes of America! I remember rejoicing when the army ads finally came out with “you are not alone.”

    1. Theresa, I didn’t see that one when I was researching slogans. That phrase could speak to each U.S. citizen as well – you are not alone because the military is out there protecting you.

  7. Yes! I have helped with our local high school football team for several years. We often reference the military mindset, becoming a “band of brothers”.
    It’s amazing to see how much these young men can achieve when they work together as “one” but not with the focus of “me”. The players who think it’s about them miss the lesson that we are trying to teach.
    A successful team has players who see their individual battles as a win or lose for the entire team. A team can lose all their games for the season, but they can walk away, having learned valuable LIFE Lessons as husbands, fathers, and men of their communities. Everyone’s role is important.

    1. Scott, I like your distinction between ‘one’ and ‘me.’ You can make one team with many others just like you make one marriage only with another person.

  8. I love this! As an police officer’s wife, I feel a sisterhood with the spouses of active military. Thanks for recognizing the spouses of the military men and women. These strong and brave spouses also serve our country with very little recognition. I thank our military men and women but I also give thanks to those who love and support them! And thank you to you, Susan, for writing this very important mussing.

    1. Carolyn, I think that one of the tragedies of our society is the lack of recognition given to the power of a married couple. We see it most when one of the spouses is laying his or her life on the line – military, police, fire etc. Our society likes to look at two people each pursuing his or her own career aspirations rather seeing that two people working towards one common goal is the best way grant the couple both a family and career path.

        1. I am so appreciative of the opportunity I had to think about this and be a little involved this week.

  9. Anything Army always catches my eye. I was a career soldier in the Infantry and finished out my career in the recruiting command. I rather thought “An Army Of One” to be quite ingenious. Our self-centered society makes one think of it as only an individual. When things are brutal sometimes we need a one man army to lift us up. To me that slogan only conjures an image of a group of individuals that make up the one. Most things army can’t be done without a team, that team is a one. I always looked at it as a play on words.
    But, I digress. The overall message if your musing is true. After returning from. Combat in the Gulf War my wife’s service was also recognized as being inseparable from mine. When I retired she was given a certificate recognizing her service to our country. In raising our family we were “An Army Of One”.
    We appreciate all of the hard work you and Rabbi do.

    1. Louis, I love hearing a different perspective. As I said to Ty, I was using the slogan to lead in to what I wanted to say, not because I thought it has zero merit. Thank you to you and your wife for your service.

  10. The number one minority in the world today is the individual. “An Army of One” I view as the individual can be as powerful as an army, albeit a small but potentially powerful one. I suspect our difference of opinion is due to our intrinsic male and female natures. Female nature is much more oriented toward cooperation and nurturing. Our male nature is much more based on competition and supremacy. The world has always been governed by the aggressive use of military force. An army of one is symbolic of that but the major factor regarding an army, be it composed of one or millions, is whether it’s military goals are good, like the defense of freedom or evil, like the Leftist Nazis or Communist militaries lead by evil dictators. Also, I believe and army of one is a metaphor for the power and might of the individual and again, that power can be used for good or evil and besides, aren’t armies always seeking likeminded allies? Can’t an army of one also have allies as you’ve so eloquently written about?

    1. Ty, I’m sure the things you write are the reason the slogan came about in the first place. I was using the slogan as a ‘hook’ on which to hang my Musing – I wasn’t out protesting it when it was used.

Comments are closed.

Shopping Cart