The Heritage Foundation would like to wish a Happy Birthday to the United States Army.

Two hundred and thirty-six years after its founding, the United States Army is truly a global presence, boasting men and women who serve their country with distinction and valor spanning every corner of the globe. Today, we honor their service and give thanks for their sacrifices both at home and abroad in the defense of our freedom.

Many of the defining moments of American history are shared by the army. They endured the long winter at Valley Forge, held the line at Little Round Top, and charged San Juan Hill with Teddy Roosevelt. The army found itself in places like Normandy and Anzio, Inchon and Khe Sanh. Through it all, the army’s story became America’s story, and the army’s victories became America’s victories. The triumphs and tragedies of war became embedded into the American experience through the army, which has sacrificed much for the advancement of liberty.

Today, the army continues this proud tradition. Army Chief of Staff General Martin Dempsey has been nominated to replace Admiral Michael Mullen as chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and General David Petraeus has been nominated to become the new Director of Central Intelligence. With these appointments, two of the President’s most important advisors will be army officers who cut their teeth during the early years of the war in Iraq. This service should take great pride in the fact that two of its own have risen to the apex of federal government.

The army today is being asked to do more than ever before. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have asked the army to win not only battles but, even more importantly, the hearts and minds of the local populations. From corporals and captains to the ranks of four-star generals, this fighting force has adapted to a complex battlefield where political reconciliation is more central to victory than the simple destruction of enemy forces.

Indeed, this trend does not appear as if it will subside even with operations in Iraq and Afghanistan winding down. The 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review states that “there are few cases in which the U.S. Armed Forces would engage in sustained large-scale combat operations without the associated need to assist in the transition to just and stable governance.” By sheer necessity, it will likely be the army that is responsible for assisting in this transition.

In his book This Kind of War, the historian T. R. Fehrenbach wrote, “You can fly over a land forever; you may bomb it, atomize it, pulverize it and wipe it clean of life; but if you desire to defend it, protect it, and keep it for civilization, you must do this on the ground, the way the Roman Legions did, by putting your young men into the mud.”

As long as the defense of the United States calls for its young men to be sent into the mud, the U.S. Army will be there, and the caissons will keep rolling along.