A pyrotechnical light show, blaring rock music and crowd full of cowboy hats aren't the typical marks of a swearing-in ceremony, but for 46 of the Army's newest recruits, the rodeo highlighted the beginning of their military careers and the ride of their lives.

Friday, Feb. 11 was Military Appreciation Night at the San Antonio Stock Show and Rodeo, and for the seventh year in a row, an enlistment ceremony of new recruits kicked off the event. Lt. Gen. Rick Lynch, commanding general of the U.S. Army Installation Management Command, which is headquartered in San Antonio, Texas, presided over this year's ceremony.

Following a showcase of the rodeo's prized palomino horses, the recruits marched onto the floor in formation and awaited orders. Lynch and IMCOM Command Sgt. Maj. Neil Ciotola rode out into the arena on horseback and addressed the recruits.

"For all you youngsters, you know how much I love you," Lynch said before leading the Armed Forces Oath of Enlistment. "I'm humbled to be in your presence." He led the recruits in reciting the oath, and with that, they were off to the rodeo.

Lynch and Ciotola, who both gained experience riding horses during their service in the First Cavalry Division at Ft. Hood, spent an hour visiting with the recruits and their Families before the ceremony.

"We wanted to combine the patriotic tenor of San Antonio with bringing in our new recruits. It was important enough to Lt. Gen. Lynch and Command Sgt. Maj. Ciotola to meet with and inspire the new recruits," said Maggie Brewster, IMCOM community relations officer, who coordinated the ceremony. "And the rodeo crowd is pretty all-American."

Though the recruits have already taken an oath at their respective Military Entrance Processing Stations, they are considered "future soldiers" who may change their minds and choose not to pursue a military career. Ceremonies such as the rodeo enlistment serve to reinforce their commitment, said Capt. Jake Weber, operations officer for the U.S. Army San Antonio Recruiting Battalion.

"To commit in front of 16,000 people is a pretty awesome experience, and to have somebody like Lt. Gen. Lynch and Command Sgt. Maj. Ciotola speak at and perform the ceremony is very powerful," he said. "I had open ears, too, when they were speaking."

The event sold out to 16,500 ticketholders, including 1,500 servicemembers and their Families. Every Friday night, the rodeo offers free admission to military personnel and their Families as thanks for their service and to bolster the relationship between the military and the San Antonio community.

"Lt. Gen. Lynch and his office reached out to us to build and strengthen that relationship, and that's something we're going to continue to build on," said Duane Heady, chairman of the Rodeo Ticket Committee. "This is the best military participation we've had, to my mind."

In addition to Military Appreciation Night and the enlistment ceremony, the rodeo treats wounded and injured warriors and their guests to the Rodeo Star Experience, which includes private dining and special front-row tickets to the rodeo and concert. This year, they were also outfitted in true cowboy fashion with the same official belt buckle designed for rodeo winners, a shirt donated by Wrangler and a cowboy hat from the rodeo.

"We have a special place in our hearts for wounded servicemen and women," Heady said. "We do our part to make sure that we know we appreciate their service as well as their Families. The reception of that has been overwhelming."

The rodeo is sponsored by the Army Recruiting Command and in turn reaches out to high school technology students interested in joining the military, Fisher House residents and recent graduates of training programs at surrounding installations.

"San Antonio has been referred to Military City, U.S.A. With all the current bases in operation, the military is so much a part of our lives, even those of us who are civilian," Heady said. "It's a large part of what we do as a city; it's who we are. Having their presence here, as with Lt. Gen. Lynch ... is a vibrant part of our show."

Page last updated Tue February 15th, 2011 at 15:18