The Army’s birthday is June 14, 1775. That’s 243 years ago.
Early in June 1775, the American Colonies did not have a standing army and resembled more of a rag-tag group of untrained farmers residing primarily in New England.
My team faced similar challenges during my time as an Army Special Forces Officer — our organizational mission was to train guerrilla and unconventional forces coming from rural communities — so I can relate to the 1775 Army regarding lack of equipment, food and support services for the forces we trained.
Lack of simple improvements to soldier marksmanship such as corrective eyewear, I am sure, limited the effectiveness of this young country’s ability to provide a well-regulated and trained militia. Armies, regardless of era, need to fight as a team, recover from personnel and equipment losses and need to be led by competent officers.
The Second Continental Congress, after appeal from the Massachusetts Provincial Congress, formed the Continental Army on June 14, 1775, consisting of 10 companies of riflemen. This is also considered the birth of the Army Infantry branch. Congress appointed George Washington as the commanding General on June 15 because of his extensive military career, personal modesty and Southerner roots. The newly formed companies were primarily recruited residents from New England and the Congress considered General Washington’s Virginia background as an opportunity to encourage the other colonies, which were not located in New England, to join the cause.
The Second Continental Congress authorized the further commissioning of seven Brigadier Generals to help lead this army. They delegated to General Washington the authority to raise more subordinate units and commission their commanders. Ambitious leaders wanting these commissions of rank personally recruited and trained their units and then led them into battle; a practice largely unchanged through the First World War and, in some cases, WWII.
Today, this method of raising armies is still common with developing nations and, most recently, Iraq and Afghanistan. Iraqi Special Operation Commander General Fadl and Afghanistan General Dostum are charismatic leaders having built effective forces. Not surprisingly, units formed and soldiers recruited by these leaders often are very effective and have great loyalty to their commanders.
The fledgling American Army experienced more than its share of defeats during the coming years as its soldiers learned to fight, commanders refined their ability to lead and the Continental Congress organized the logistical support required to sustain soldiers in the field. These are perishable skills learned and, unfortunately, re-learned through many conflicts including today’s Army.
The Army’s birthday is a great reminder of the challenges, self-sacrifice and dedication that our soldiers face each day.
Happy birthday, soldiers — wherever you serve.
Kent Crossley, Executive Director, Centerstone Military Services