VOORHEES, N.J. — In one of his last acts as the acting Army secretary, Patrick Murphy on Tuesday swore in some of the Army's newest recruits.

"We need to set the tone that every soldier is a soldier for life, and that means you're a leader of character for a lifetime of service," said Murphy, who on Wednesday resumed full-time his role as the service's under secretary after serving as the acting secretary while Eric Fanning awaited Senate confirmation. Fanning was sworn in as the service's top civilian leader on Wednesday.

Murphy, in his capacity as acting secretary, traveled here Tuesday for the eighth annual high school enlistee recognition ceremony hosted by the Our Community Salutes chapter in Camden County. Earlier in the day, he also visited Picatinny Arsenal, also in New Jersey, to learn more about the research and development work being done to provide soldiers with the latest and greatest weapons and equipment.

"What they do [at Picatinny] for our infantrymen and artillerymen and our whole Army is second to none," Murphy said. "They are a powerful research platform to make sure our troops have everything they need to win."

Since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the experts at Picatinny have fielded 239 new capabilities to the Army, Murphy said.

"The cutting-edge work they do here is critical for our warfighters," he said. "Here's where we have the research and development to make sure our troops don't have a fair fight, that they have the technical and tactical advantage over the enemy."

Army Under Secretary Patrick Murphy gets a closer look at the M240L machine gun during a visit to Picatinny Arsenal, N.J., on May 17.

Photo Credit: Michelle Tan/Staff

After wrapping up his visit to Picatinny, Murphy traveled here to mark an important milestone for some of the Army's newest soldiers.

"We owe it to the next generation, these men and women that are now enlistees, to make sure we're working every day to make [the Army] a better institution for them all," he said.

Murphy, an Iraq war veteran who was a criminal prosecutor in the 82nd Airborne Division and later an assistant professor at West Point, is a big proponent of the Army's Soldier for Life program, which is designed to help troops through every stage of their career, including their exit and return to civilian life.

"When you leave the Army, whether it's three years of 30 years, you're still part of the Army family," Murphy has said. "Although there are about 1.3 million people on the Army team, there are also 9.5 million American veterans out there that are Army veterans that we want to do a better job of connecting with."

The Our Community Salutes event was an important one for the young men and women making the transition from high school to the military, Murphy said.

Our Community Salutes is a national non-profit, all-volunteer organization created to help communities recognize and honor local graduating high school seniors who plan to enlist in the military. Founded by Kenneth Hartman in 2009, Our Community Salutes has since hosted recognition ceremonies in more than 60 communities across the United States.

During Tuesday's event, graduating high school seniors from across the local area gathered with their families as community and military leaders, including New Jersey's Lieutenant Governor Kim Guadagno, applauded them for their transition into the military. Also in attendance were area recruiters representing the Army, Marine Corps, Air Force, Navy and National Guard.

Retired Command Sgt. Maj. Michele Jones, the first woman to serve as the top enlisted soldier for the Army Reserve, made it a point to recognize the young enlistees' parents and family members.

"You may be anxious, fearful and somewhat hesitant in accepting their choice to serve, as my parents did with me," she said. "When I joined over 30 years ago, they did not agree with my choice, but they did support my decision."

Her family's support was critical, Jones said.

"My mom wrote me letters. My dad sent me cards," she said. "Now, almost 30 years later, I still have those letters. I still have those cards. It meant everything to me. That was my line of communication. That was the motivation to get me through the hard days."

Jones also had some advice for the men and women preparing to don the uniform.

"This is our country. It is not perfect, but it is ours, and it is the greatest one, and you protect it. Period," she said. "Do train hard. Do take advantage of every opportunity that is presented to you. Do love your country. A title is just a title. Your character will take you so far, much more than any title you've ever had."

Murphy, who took the stage after Jones, echoed her remarks.

"If you don't stand for something, you'll fall for anything," he said. "Remember why you're joining our ranks. Remember why this is important to you so you can look back and say 'this is why I serve.'"

The world these newest recruits will enter into as soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines is complex and dangerous, with many challenges at home and abroad, Murphy said.

"We don't know where this journey is going to take you," he said. "We don't know what's around the corner, but in the Army we talk about readiness. If you're ready mentally, physically, spiritually, ready to go, ready to fight tonight, you're ahead of the game. That's what we demand of every soldier."

The Army has a "solemn and sacred" responsibility to the American public, Murphy said.

"That is to fight and win our nation's wars and keep our families safe at home," he said. "You're taking on that responsibility, and you'll do a phenomenal job."