Gen. David Petraeus, commander of U.S. Central Command, visited the Editorial Board yesterday. He was in town to accept the Lincoln Award at the Union League's celebration of the Army's birthday. Here are excerpts from his remarks at the League.

It is a great honor and more than humbling to receive an award named for one of our country's greatest leaders — one who was known for his considerable humility. And with that in mind, I accept this award only inasmuch as I accept it on behalf of the more than 215,000 wonderful men and women in uniform serving our nation throughout the Central Command area of responsibility. They are, as I know this group recognizes very clearly, performing exceptional service for our nation, carrying out the most difficult of missions in challenging circumstances, against tough enemies. So, today, I accept this award for them. ...

Last July Fourth, I had the honor of raising my right hand in Baghdad with 1,215 of our soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines as they reenlisted, in a combat zone, for another tour of service, knowing that they likely would be asked to deploy again during that tour. Their devotion to our country, to their profession, and to the troopers serving on their right and left were truly inspirational and spoke volumes about the quality of our force today. ...

I'd like to take the occasion of our Army's 234th birthday to discuss the state of the Army in which many of those troopers enlisted last Fourth of July.

For several years now, some in the media have issued post-mortems — or more accurately, pre-post-mortems — on our military, detailing an assortment of strains that have, to quote the term often used, "broken" our Army. To be sure, these strains are real; most significant among them are the tremendous sacrifices we have asked of our troopers and their families as these great young men and women march into harm's way on our behalf, to places unfamiliar and with missions much different from those for which they were training at the dawn of this century.

Now, I do not want to understate the gravity of these challenges; in fact, I frequently highlight them — noting that, having been deployed for over five of the last seven and a half years, I know something about separation from loved ones. Nonetheless, it is my belief that the state of our Army today is defined not by the challenges we face, but by how our troopers have risen to meet them ...

And rising to meet those challenges is exactly what our troopers have done, and continue to do. Indeed, it is with certainty tonight that I report to you that, 234 years after its founding, today's Army is the finest in our history. This is so because today's soldiers have adapted to meet the unique demands of 21st-century combat and have emerged from it the most skilled, experienced and capable troopers in our history. ...

I have argued in the past that our soldiers' most important weapon is not their rifle, it is their mind. Indeed our Army's excellence does not reside in the superior weaponry or impressive technology we have provided to our soldiers; rather, our Army's excellence comes from the exceptional men and women who have demonstrated unprecedented initiative, determination, innovativeness, courage and adaptability in developing the skills that they have been required to demonstrate in difficult circumstances against tough enemies in what has come to be called "irregular warfare" ...

Abraham Lincoln, for whom today's award is named, captured with characteristic eloquence the imperative to adapt and grow in the face of new and daunting challenges. "The dogmas of the quiet past," he stated, "are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty and we must rise with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew and act anew. We must disenthrall ourselves, and then we shall save our country."

Mastering the operations that characterize 21st-century warfare has required our forces to think anew and to act anew. And, while weaponry and technology are hugely important, it is nonetheless our soldiers who are at the heart of this transformation. As Gen. Ric Shinseki used to note while serving as our Army's chief of staff, "People are central to everything we do in the Army. Institutions don't transform, people do. Platforms and organizations don't defend this nation, people do. Units don't train, they don't stay ready, they don't grow and develop leadership; they don't sacrifice; and they don't take risks on behalf of the nation; people do."

Indeed it is individuals, soldiers, whether their uniforms bear stars or a single chevron, who are the source of the innovation, skill, and heroism that make this Army the finest in our history. The crucible of 21st-century combat has forged an extraordinarily capable Army from the remarkable individuals wearing our uniform today. Indeed, our troopers have been tested again and again now for more than seven years. They have passed each other. They have never been broken. Rather, they have risen again and again to meet each and every challenge. ...

Today, as we commemorate the establishment of our Army by the Continental Congress in 1775, we might also recall the deeds of the very first generation of American soldiers. In the cold winter of 1776, with thousands of soldiers' enlistments about to expire and the fate of our fledgling nation uncertain, Thomas Paine captured the challenges of the times in his paper, "The American Crisis," "These are the times that try men's souls," he wrote. "The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman."

Ladies and gentlemen, like their Revolutionary forebears, today's soldiers are undaunted by the challenges we face. The troopers who raised their right hands in Baghdad with me were no sunshine patriots. Our servicemen and women stand resolutely, ready to meet today's challenges, ready to prove that, after 234 years, today's Army truly is the finest in our history and deserving of the assessment by Tom Brokaw that, surely, they are our nation's new Greatest Generation. And, surely, in their service, they live the motto of this great organization, "Love of country leads."