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The Thayer Award, established in honor of Col. Sylvanus Thayer, Father of the United States Military Academy, is usually presented to an outstanding citizen whose service and accomplishments in the national interest exemplify the Military Academy motto of Duty, Honor, Country.

WEST POINT, New York – Army senior leaders and 10 Medal of Honor recipients joined the U.S. Military Academy Corps of Cadets to honor the American soldier 3 October 2002. The Sept. 27 winners of the Department of the Army's first-ever NCO and Soldier of the Year competitions – Sgt. 1st Class Jeffery Stitzel and Spc. Justin Brown -- accepted the academy's Sylvanus Thayer award on behalf of all enlisted soldiers, past and present.

Stitzel is an NCO with the 3rd U.S. Infantry (Old Guard) at Fort Myer, Va., and Brown is a measurement and diagnostic equipment specialist from Baumholder, Germany The Thayer award has been given annually by the academy's Association of Graduates to a person who has embodied the spirit of West Point's motto --"Duty, Honor, Country" -- throughout a lifetime of service to the nation. Past honorees include President Ronald Reagan, astronaut Neil Armstrong, Dr. Henry Kissinger and Hawaii Sen. Daniel Inouye. The award was named in honor of Thayer, USMA class of 1808, who as the academy's superintendent from 1817 to 1833 developed West Point's curriculum to foster personal character along with regular academic and military education.

While the award has been given to statesmen, senior officers and other notables, this is the first time it has been presented to an enlisted soldier in its 44-year history.

"In selecting the American soldier as the 2002 Thayer award recipient, the association has chosen to honor an ideal -- an ideal that is magnificent in selfless service to country, long in its sense of duty and deep in its commitment to honor," said Army Chief of Staff Gen. Eric K. Shinseki. The chief challenged the cadets to first learn to be good soldiers themselves. Then they should learn to love the soldiers they lead, rise to their expectations, train them to succeed in battle, grow them into leaders and care for their families as well, Shinseki said.

"I've done a lot of important things in my life, but nothing as important or honorable as what we are doing here tonight," said retired Gen. Gordon R. Sullivan, Army chief of staff from 1991 to 1995 and current Association of U.S. Army president. Sullivan pointed out that it was no mistake that the commanding generals and sergeants major of the Army Reserve and National Guard joined Shinseki and Sgt. Maj. Of the Army Jack L. Tilley for the awards ceremony as the Thayer Award "To the American Soldier" was for troops of both the active and reserve component. Just look at the history of the National Guard, he said, and you will find militiamen fighting in all of our nation's battles back to fields of Concord and Lexington, he said. Further, Sullivan said, 17 percent of the 4,111 cadets currently at academy have prior enlisted service.

American soldiers have often changed the course of history as guardians of freedom-- often at the risk of life and limb, Tilley said. "Soldiers don't do it for money; they don't do it for glory," Tilley said. "They do it for a greater purpose -- to protect and defend the constitution of the United States, to protect our families and our way of life." Soldiers' service to the nation continues beyond their service in the Army, Tilley continued, as soldiers bring a strong sense of discipline and honor to the civilian world when they return to it – make America stronger and better.

Stitzel and Brown, who received a standing ovation when accepting the Thayer Award, did not take it home with them as it belongs to all enlisted soldiers. It will remain prominently displayed at the academy to remind cadets that the troops they may one day lead are the best in the world, said Lt. Gen. William J. Lennox Jr., USMA superintendent.


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