<b>CHARLOTTE, N.C. </b>- A thunderous roar of more than 73,000 fans welcomed the color guards from all five branches of the U.S. Armed Forces during a National Football League's Carolina Panther football game against the New Orleans Saints Nov. 7.
As part of Panthers' military appreciation day activities, Army Reserve Soldiers from the 81st Regional Support Command, based at nearby Fort Jackson, S.C., carried "Old Glory" and the Army flag and its 178 campaign streamers onto the football field.

Wearing replica World War II uniforms and armed with authentic M1 Garands, the four-Soldier color guard honored those of the 81st Infantry Division who fought and died in campaigns in the Western Pacific and South Philippines - the most notable battle being on Angaur Island.

As Sgt. 1st Class Robert Rayborn carefully laced the leggings covering his boots and olive drab pants before stepping out onto the blue and silver painted field, he said being a member of any military color guard is the highest honor for him as a Soldier.

"Being able to present America's colors is an amazing honor for a service member in uniform," he said. "Our flag represents everything about the United States; it is an international symbol of freedom."

Rayborn said that when he sees the red, white and blue colors presented at events like football games it instills him with a great sense of personal pride as well as a reminder of all who have served their country.

"Remembering all of those that have served before me is important to me," he said about past and current conflicts. "Veterans are the reason we can do the things we do in this country because of those that have served. Our freedoms, rights and liberties are here because citizens were willing to serve their country. That service must never be forgotten."

As he and other members of the color guard finished donning the combat field gear most notably worn by Tom Hanks in "Saving Private Ryan," the Army flag was carefully uncased from its protective covering.

Soldiers located the red and yellow "Lexington" battle streamer and fixed it to hang forward. The sounds of last-minute readjustments to helmets, field packs and the functions checks of the two rifles were easily drowned out by the sounds of screaming fans at the pre-game event.

Command Sgt. Maj. James Wills, the senior-enlisted Soldier for the Wildcat command, said color guards are important because they represent the heartbeat of America.

"They are the centerpiece of a heraldic military that has served this nation since its establishment," he said. "It is a reflection of our Soldiers who have fought to defend the citizens of the United States. The color guard represents a thread of our history, which, if you look at the history of the United States, you can't look upon without seeing our military having been there as a part of it."

As the color guards stepped onto the field, the game announcer introduced each branch of service. The deafening applause quietly came to a whisper as the crowd prepared for a tradition that kicks off all sporting events from coast to coast - the national anthem.

As old and young either saluted or placed their right hand over their hearts, Wills stated that he hopes those fans in attendance saw the color guards and felt a compassion for all service members who so willingly stepped forward to protect and defend the nation and its people.

"These color guards reflect the commitment our military has in defending the nation and those who have gone before us to do the same," he said.

For one member of the citizen-warrior color guard, freedom is something sacred and should never be taken for granted.

Staff Sgt. Jeremy Glasco, a command chaplain assistant, said America should honor those who gave their lives for such a noble cause as freedom.

"If we fail to recognize those patriots who sacrificed so much for our freedom then we are more likely to take our liberty for granted," he said. "It is when we don't appreciate something it becomes abused."

Wills said one of the most important elements of any color guard are the enlisted service members carrying and protecting the colors.

Since the establishment of the military and the flag, Wills said it has been the enlisted Soldier carrying the colors, as typically the command sergeant major has the responsibility to be the "keeper of the colors."

"Our enlisted Soldiers are truly a reflection of our best of the best making greater sacrifices in combat and making a difference," Wills said. "The non-commissioned officer corps remains the 'backbone' of the Army."

Page last updated Mon November 8th, 2010 at 08:09