JOINT BASE ANDREWS, Md. –
Two hundred and forty years ago this winter, the American Continental Army spent the season in the cold, harsh conditions of Valley Forge about 20 miles to the northwest of Philadelphia. The brutal conditions amplified the severe hardships of a military force that was under-equipped, under-fed, and under-clothed. Of the 12,000 soldiers that entered the camp in December of 1777, over 2,000 died before they left in the spring of 1778.
The snow covered fields of Valley Forge were often spotted with bloody footprints of a force that regularly lacked even the simple necessities of shoes and boots. French Gen. Marquis de Lafayette commented on the American force that “the unfortunate soldiers were in want of everything.” Gen. George Washington himself stated: “For without arrogance or the smallest deviation from truth it may be said, that no history now extant can furnish an instance of an army's suffering such uncommon hardships as ours has done, and bearing them with the same patience and fortitude.”
Yet, the American Continental Army recognized the importance of these cold, harsh, long months. Through their patience and fortitude they saw an opportunity to ready themselves for the battles to come. To take a phrase from today’s vernacular, they understood the necessity of regaining full-spectrum readiness.
Up to that point, the Americans had yet to see success against the British in force-on-force conflict. Yes, the revolutionaries had seen some victories during small scale skirmishes during the war that had already lasted over 2 1/2 years. They had been successful at places like Concord, Dorchester Heights, Brooklyn, Trenton, and Princeton; however, they had not seen any signs of success that would indicate that they were headed for true victory.
Thus, during that winter they trained. They exercised. They marched. They drilled. They were determined to create a disciplined, professional force that would be ready for whatever they would see in the battles to come. They readied themselves for all contingencies.
Shortly after they left Valley Forge in 1778, they faced their first test in a force-on-force engagement called the Battle of Monmouth. Their readiness was put to the test, and for the first time, it was the British who retreated from the battle. The newly-ready American Continental Army prevailed, proving that they could face down a trained and professional British force. It wasn’t a huge victory on its own, but it signaled hope for the entire revolutionary cause.
Two hundred and forty years later, we must similarly see the value of using our time today to fully prepare for the battles to come. We don’t know when and we don’t know where we will be employed, but our nation needs us to be ready for all contingencies. Though we may face hardships in our preparation, let us learn from the patience and fortitude of our forefathers to ready ourselves today.