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10 things you didn't know about the U.S. Army

Facts for your next dinner party

GEORGE WASHINGTON: He didn't want to command the Continental Army. Painting by Charles Peale Polk

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Whether you are a foreign threat or merely a trivia buff, the U.S. Army has more than its share of surprises. Did you know?

The Army is older than the United States itself.  During a Presidential campaign, Alan Keyes was once challenged to find a reference to God in the Constitution; he shot back that the Declaration of Independence is so religious, it's almost Scripture.  "Are you trying to say that the DOI is equal to the U.S. Constitution?" his debate opponent asked, amazed.

"I am saying that the DOI is superior to the Constitution," Keyes said.  As he pointed out, the DOI is the starting point, the statement of common beliefs on which our Constitution - and nation - rest.

In a similar way, the Army is actually more important than most things we consider basic to the U.S.  A group of European pilgrims might have any number of things they would like to do together - to uphold freedom, or to build roads, or to cook a turkey dinner and call it Thanksgiving.  But none of those things can occur before that group of pilgrims is able to secure its perimeter and defend itself from physical threats.  You get lost in the mountains?  Self-defense comes first, and a search for water and shelter comes later.

Nowadays, some idealists might want to "shoo" the Army off college campuses and dream about a world in which America's blessings are possible without self-defense.  Army recruiters know a little differently.

The U.S. Army protects most countries on the planet.  In the last 10 years alone, U.S. Army Special Operations Forces have been deployed in 135 countries.  "Special Ops" soldiers help the locals with counter-insurgency, recon, info operations, defense against WMDs and many other things.

A defiant interviewer once asked Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, whether he thought that France owed it to the U.S. to "act as an extension of its foreign policy."  He replied gruffly, "No.  But considering that for some 50 years they were free of Soviet occupation solely due to our providence, we do deserve special consideration."   The silence in the room was deafening.

The average 21-year-old American male is NOT qualified to serve as a U.S. soldier.  Fewer than 28 percent of Americans aged 17 to 23 are so qualified.  That is a much stricter cut than is the case with American colleges, for example.

If it were a state, the Army would rank #43 in population.  As of 2010, there were more than 500,000 active -duty soldiers, 200,000 Reserve soldiers, and 350,000 soldiers in the National Guard.   That would rank the Army between New Hampshire and Rhode Island in population.

The total land area occupied by U.S. military bases and facilities is more than 15,000 square miles; that would rank #42, behind West Virginia and comfortably ahead of Maryland.

The youngest U.S. servicemember was age 12 - Calvin Graham, USN, was dishonorably discharged for lying about his age.   WWI and WWII parrots in the Eiffel Tower were able to sound alarms on incoming planes faster than military systems could.  During the Civil War, all (that's a-l-l) Confederate officers carried copies of the novel Les Miserables on their persons.  The movie Casablanca was censored in Germany for during, and for many years after, WWII.  OK, Graham was in the Navy, and now we're getting into facts that are pretty random.  Hey, so is armed conflict, right?

Thirty of the 44 U.S. Presidents served in the Army, and of those 30, fully 24 served in time of war.  Presidents Eisenhower and Washington were five-star generals, in total control of U.S. forces - hold that thought for a second.  Teddy Roosevelt earned the Congressional Medal of Honor.  Americans don't like presidents whose mouths are bigger than their six-guns.

However, we might want to cut a little slack for recent Presidents who were uncomfortably civilian:  Thomas Jefferson and John Quincy Adams never served.  (Of course, both men were as patriotic as it is possible to get, and both died on the same day, exactly 50 years after July 4, 1776).

Our seven-star general never wanted to command the Army.  George Washington never campaigned for leader of the Continental Army - in fact, experts agree that Washington felt very unqualified for such a daunting responsibility.  Historians do wonder, however, whether there was a dry eye in the room when the Second Continental Congress convened and Washington showed up at the door wearing his military uniform.

From Washington's meek persona, to our late entry into WWII, to our efforts to avoid Desert Storm, the U.S. Army seldom begins fights.  Or fails to finish them.

The Army took forever to decide on a song.  Nothing was ever good enough, but finally on Veteran's Day in 1956, the Army made it official:  "The Army Goes Rolling Along."  Indeed it does.

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