BAGHDAD - Service members at Camp Victory, Iraq, celebrated the Army's 234th birthday Sunday with cakes, music, videos and words from the Multi-National Force-Iraq commanding general, General Raymond T. Odierno.

Prior to the celebration, the youngest and oldest Soldiers assigned to I Corps, Multi-National Corps-Iraq, reflected on the difference 31 years in the Army can make.

In the summer of 1967, Master Sgt. Austin Asher, MNC-I food services, received a letter in the mail that said "Greetings from the President of the United States, you have been inducted into the United States Army."

He left from Cleveland on a train bound for Fort Knox, Ky., having been drafted for service in Vietnam.

"No bonuses, they gave us what was called a flying twenty, to get your toiletries," explained Asher. "Of course, we all played cards and I lost mine playing poker."

Private 1st Class Karin Leach, 114th Public Affairs Detachment, received a $20,000 bonus for her enlistment into the New Hampshire Army National Guard in 2008, leaving for basic training after graduating high school.

"I joined for the chance to go over to another country that doesn't have the rights we take for granted, that are less fortunate than us, and tell their story through words and photographs," Leach said.

She boarded an airplane and arrived at Fort Jackson, S.C.

"I remember waking up early; it was still dark, and I asked my drill sergeant if it was necessary; that didn't go over well," recalled Leach.

Asher chuckled and replied, "I can't imagine asking my drill sergeant anything. I was scared to death of my drill sergeant."

There have been many changes in the Army since Asher was drafted. Chow halls now use plastic trays instead of aluminum, and Kevlar helmets replaced 'steel pots.'

"We had an M-14, with 7.62 mm (ammunition), and we learned to disassemble and reassemble it just like your M-16, but with a lot more moving parts," Asher explained to Leach.

When Asher was at Fort Knox, the M-151 Jeep was still the most common vehicle, and cargo trucks all had manual transmissions.

"I don't even know how to drive a stick," said Leach. "Out here we drive a Ford Explorer, and I could drive a humvee if I had to."

While stationed at Fort Lewis in the late 1960s, Asher lived in wooden barracks heated by coal-fired furnaces. Soldiers conducted physical training in black boots, white T-shirts and olive green fatigue trousers.

"I have a nice PT reflective belt, form fitting T-shirt with black shorts," Leach said, "and pink stripes on my sneakers."

Unlike Asher, Leach has an iPod, doesn't know what a transistor radio looks like and keeps in touch with friends and family through the Internet.

"Back in the day, we stood in line with a pocket full of quarters to use the pay phone," Asher said.

Despite their different initial experiences with the Army, Asher and Leach share a common bond. They are part of a voluntary Army deployed to Iraq, dedicated to a cause greater than themselves.

"You be proud to wear the uniform and proud of your generation; they make the same sacrifices, being deployed three or four times," Asher said.

Staff Sgt. Luke Koladish is assigned to 114th Public Affairs Detachment. This story appeared in Fort Lewis' Northwest Guardian.

Page last updated Mon June 22nd, 2009 at 12:21