A few weeks ago, while at the Fort Eisenhower PX, I heard a group of young soldiers having a lively discussion about many of the things privates like to discuss: sports, drill instructors, weekend plans, and video games.
At one point, one of the soldiers commented that the US Army had “changed its motto again” to an older one, “Be All That You Can Be.”
Although I understand their mistaking the recruiting slogan for the motto, I was disheartened to hear that soldiers don’t know our own motto, “This We’ll Defend.”
This phrase has been long underused inside the army to inspire soldiers with a sense of purpose, as well as a powerful message to the American people, potential recruits, and the world as to why the army exists.
The US Army has been one of the most respected institutions in the world, known for its commitment to defending the nation and its people. Its motto, “This We’ll Defend,” encapsulates this commitment and represents the army’s core values and mission.
However, despite its significance, the motto is not widely used. I believe that the US Army should use “This We’ll Defend” regularly as the basis for all its operations, particularly those aimed to inform and influence.
The phrase “This We’ll Defend” has a long history in the US Army. The phrase dates back to 1778, when the War Office was first created to manage the Continental Army. It was used in various capacities until 1956, when it was adopted as the official US Army motto as part of a broader effort to standardize army symbols and traditions.
Before that, the army had used various unofficial mottos, such as “The Star-Spangled Banner” and “Honor, Country, Duty.”
Shortly thereafter, in 1958, it was included as one of the key symbols on the new Drill Sergeant’s badge, worn by our best NCOs as they mold and mentor recruits into soldiers.
What is ‘This’?
In the context of the US Army’s motto, “this” primarily refers to the Constitution and the United States as a nation. The motto is meant to convey the idea that the army is committed to defending the country, its people, and their way of life against all threats, both foreign and domestic.
However, “this” could also be interpreted in other ways.
“This” could refer to the US Army itself as an institution, and the motto would then mean that the service is committed to defending its own people, values, traditions, and way of life. It highlights the importance of teamwork and collaboration, both essential for building a strong and effective military force.
This interpretation emphasizes the US Army’s sense of pride and its commitment to upholding the highest standards of professionalism and integrity while combating the four corrosives: extremism, racism, sexual harassment/assault, and suicide.
By using the motto as a baseline for addressing these issues, the army can emphasize its commitment to defending not only the nation but also the principles that the nation stands for.
“This” reminds soldiers to be mindful of threats “foreign and domestic,” in and out of the organization. It serves as a rallying cry to combat behaviors and actions that degrade fellow soldiers, threaten their safety, or their ability to serve with pride.
As a Recruiting Tool
Over the years, the army has used different slogans to attract potential recruits, from WWI’s “I Want You” to “Choice, Not Chance” in the 1950s, and from “Be All You Can Be” in the post-Vietnam era to “Army Strong” starting in 2006, and then back to “Be All you Can Be” in 2023.
While these slogans have effectively communicated the benefits of serving in the army, they do not capture the essence of the army’s mission.
Simon Sinek’s book Start with Why emphasizes the importance of starting with a clear understanding of an organization’s purpose, mission, and values. The leadership expert argues that a strong sense of purpose and a clear understanding of why an organization exists is essential for building a solid brand, inspiring loyalty among customers and employees, and achieving long-term success.
Using “This We’ll Defend” as a recruiting motto is consistent with Sinek’s philosophy of starting with why. The motto defines the US Army’s purpose and mission, emphasizing its commitment to defending the Constitution, the nation, and its people.
By starting with a clear understanding of the army’s purpose, the motto creates a strong brand identity for the army and inspires loyalty among potential recruits. Moreover, Sinek argues that people are more motivated by a sense of purpose and belonging than by financial incentives or other external rewards. Countless studies and articles cite Generation Z’s draw to jobs and companies that align with their core values and beliefs.
By emphasizing the US Army’s sense of purpose, “This We’ll Defend” appeals to potential recruits looking for a career that will provide deeper purpose and meaning in their lives as well as those motivated by their sense of duty honor and patriotism.
“This We’ll Defend” can be a powerful and inspiring message. It reminds people of the army’s long-standing commitment to defending the nation, its people, and its values.
Using it more often would inspire a stronger sense of camaraderie within the US Army, create a consistent brand identity that starts with a statement of purpose, and inspire loyalty among soldiers and potential recruits.
Additionally, by emphasizing the army’s commitment to defending the Constitution and the nation, the motto would reinforce the institution’s values of loyalty, duty, honor, selfless service, respect, integrity, and personal courage — all essential for building a strong and effective military force.
Zachary Cottam is a Cyber Warfare Officer currently assigned to the US Army Cyber Command Joint Force Headquarters at Fort Eisenhower Georgia.
He spent his first 12 years of service as an Infantry Officer leading Soldiers in the 10th Mountain Division, 1st Cavalry Division, and 2 Security Forces Assistance Brigade, and the 6th Ranger Training Battalion.
The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of The Defense Post.
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