JOINT BASE BALAD, Iraq - On Nov. 11 - Veteran's Day - nearly 300 service members across Iraq gathered to re-enlist here at Holt Stadium, the largest mass re-enlistment in the base's history.
After helicopter and convoy movement, rehearsals, and warnings of what to do in the event of a mortar attack, all 274 service members raised their right hand and swore oaths to defend their country - again.
Addressing a crowd of spectators, Brig. Gen. Michael Lally, the commander of 3d Sustainment Command (Expeditionary) and the host for the event, said: "We gather today to remind ourselves that our mission as fighting men and women must continue. And to continue we must have those that are willing, able, and are inspired to raise their hands again and again to be counted with those that came before them."
To the re-enlisting service members, all of whom volunteered for the occasion, the significance of holding the ceremony on Veteran's Day was important.
"Every Veteran's Day has been big for us in uniform," said Sgt. Juan Rojas, a cook with the 297th ITC and a Miami native. "It gives me great pleasure to be here and be part of history."
Since switching over to an all-volunteer force in 1973, the armed forces have depended on re-enlistments to retain qualified personnel, which has become more critical in the face of the ongoing operations around the world.
According to Col. Kevin O'Connell, the commander of 1st Sustainment Brigade, Soldiers stay in the Army for the same reasons they join: training, education, adventure, money - and the most important reason they stay in the military, however, is service to their nation, he said.
"They're patriotic," O'Connell said. "They want to serve in an all-volunteer Army . . . to give back to a great nation what it's given to them."
While she was not planning to make the Army her career, Sgt. Latasha Myers, a mechanic with the 503rd Maintenance Company and an Allentown. S.C. native, said her experiences and the people she works with inspired her to re-enlist.
"I love what I do," she said. "I love fighting for my country."
"As I stayed in, I realized I really liked serving the United States of America and wearing the uniform, " Rojas said.
O'Connell said friends and families should be proud of what their sons and daughters did this day.
"They re-enlisted on a big day, while they're in combat. They continue to serve when their nation needs them, when we're in conflict," he said. "They're our future."
"These common men and women have always done, and will continue to do, uncommon things," Lally said during his closing remarks to the crowd.
"The stories of those in front of you are still being written," he said. "Today another chapter has begun. Wherever they go, whatever they do - each story will be different. Each will contain trials and deployments, and tales from lands yet to be seen. However, the common theme in each will be their selfless service and their universal commitment."

Page last updated Fri July 22nd, 2011 at 12:16