1st Sgt. Johnny Whisenant cleans the sword he and Pfc. Barbara Stone used to cut the birthday cake celebrating the 373rd birthday of the National Guard. The celebration was sponsored by the Redstone-Huntsville Chapter of the Association of the U.S. Army. Standing at attention behind the most senior and youngest Soldiers at the ceremony are, from left, Sgt. 1st Class Rodney Henshaw, Staff Sgt. Latoris Vance and Staff Sgt. Jeremy Thompson.

REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala. -- For Pfc. Barbara Stone, joining the Alabama Army National Guard was a lifelong aspiration.

Since January 2008, she has served her country. Now, as a 20-year-old, she is looking forward to climbing the ranks, refining her skills as an information technology specialist and taking advantage of the opportunities the Guard can offer her.

Her first sergeant, 1st Sgt. Johnny Whisenant, said he hopes Stone enjoys her National Guard career as much as he has enjoyed serving for 39 years.

Aca,!A"I want her to be all she can be,Aca,!A? said Whisenant, referring to an Army slogan. Aca,!A"Now, the nation as a whole, is putting so much into the Guard. She will be well-trained and she will work with the best equipment available. She will have a sense of purpose.Aca,!A?

Stone and Whisenant, both Soldiers in the GuardAca,!a,,cs 115th Expeditionary Signal Brigade, represented the youngest and most senior enlisted Soldiers in the traditional cake-cutting ceremony for the National GuardAca,!a,,cs 373rd birthday. The ceremony was part of a National Guard birthday breakfast held Friday at the Heritage Club.

The two Soldiers represent what the Guard is all about Aca,!" providing the best citizen-Soldiers to augment the active Army, and to provide support for state functions and emergencies.

Aca,!A"Our Guard has come a long way,Aca,!A? Maj. Gen. Joe Harkey of Alabama National GuardAca,!a,,cs 167th Theater Sustainment Command, told the breakfast audience. Aca,!A"WeAca,!a,,cve transformed from a strategic resource to operational forces Aca,!A| ItAca,!a,,cs a big challenge to be an operational force. The uptempo is high. But weAca,!a,,cve proven we can do the job.Aca,!A?

He referred to the GuardAca,!a,,cs birthday as an Aca,!A"unbroken lineageAca,!A? of service that began in 1636 when the Massachusetts Bay Colony organized a military force of citizen-Soldiers to protect a colony of about 5,000 that had made a two-month voyage to settle in the New World.

From that initial organization, four units, now all part of the Massachusetts Army National Guard, have been in continuous service and are the oldest units in the Army.

The National Guard has led many initiatives and programs within the Army. Among its accomplishments in recent years, Harkey said the Guard has revitalized and redefined recruiting, established recruiting assistance and recruiting sustainment programs, and has supported Soldiers and families with the Yellow Ribbon program, Freedom Salute Program, ChaplainsAca,!a,,c Retreat Program and Employee Support to Guard and Reserve Program.

Aca,!A"We have the most robust, well-trained force thatAca,!a,,cs ever been in the Guard,Aca,!A? Harkey said of the 358,000 National Guard Soldiers.

Aca,!A"WeAca,!a,,cve deployed over 52,000 in the last year to Afghanistan and Iraq, and over 11,000 Soldiers domestically to support operations. In Alabama, since 9/11, weAca,!a,,cve deployed over 15,000 Soldiers and airmen.Aca,!A?

Alabama National Guard Maj. Ken Arnold, who recently returned from a deployment to Afghanistan with the 279th Army Field Support Brigade, said Aca,!A"many things have changed since the Guard had that first drillAca,!A? in 1636. But one thing has stayed the same Aca,!" Aca,!A"we really are citizen-Soldiers who represent not only our military but also our communities,Aca,!A? Arnold said.

Arnold, who works for a defense contractor, was deployed for about seven months. He said the experience was Aca,!A"probably the most humbling IAca,!a,,cve ever had.Aca,!A?

U.S. troops in Afghanistan Aca,!A"are motivated in what they are doing. They believe in the mission. WeAca,!a,,cre winning now. WeAca,!a,,cre making a difference,Aca,!A? he said.

Others who spoke at the breakfast include Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle and Steve Taylor, president of the Redstone-Huntsville Chapter of the Association of the U.S. Army.

David Carney, a retired National Guard first sergeant and an active Guard supporter who emceed the birthday celebration, said the breakfast sponsor Aca,!" the local AUSA chapter Aca,!" has been named AUSAAca,!a,,cs best chapter for National Guard support six years in a row.

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