Fort Leonard Wood celebrates 237th Army birthday
June 20, 2012
FORT LEONARD WOOD, Mo. -- As the sun rose over Gammon Field June 14, the voices of 10,000 service members singing broke the morning stillness. They were calling out cadences and unit songs in a rare division-style run, to commemorate the Army's 237th Birthday.
The run, which recognized Soldiers, was part of Fort Leonard Wood's all-day Army Birthday celebration, themed "America's Army: The Strength of the Nation." The day continued with a luncheon, recognizing the contributions of the Army civilians, and an evening Streamer and Retreat Ceremony, which recognized Army Families and local communities.
Before the run began at 6:30 a.m., Maj. Gen. Mark Yenter, Maneuver Support Center of Excellence and Fort Leonard Wood commanding general, addressed the units spread across Gammon Field.
"Today, the Army recognizes 237 years of a Soldier answering today's call to duty. I can think of no better way to celebrate our birthday than with a post-wide run," Yenter said.
"As you do this today, as you see this massive formation, and as you watch it uncoil from this parade field, and as you see it running down these streets, eight Soldiers wide, I want you to think about something -- you are part of something that is bigger than you are," he said. "You are part of something that has tremendous mass and tremendous power."
Following the run, Yenter explained how today's Soldiers continue traditions that began with the foundation of the Army.
"On June 14, 1775 our nation's leaders established the continental Army -- the beginning of our Army's rich heritage of meeting the needs of our nation and defending our citizens," Yenter said. "Today, America's Army is engaged in nearly 150 countries around the world, with over 95,000 Soldiers forward-stationed and 93,000 Soldiers deployed. We even have Soldiers from here at Fort Leonard Wood deployed today, from the 4th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade and the 92nd MP Battalion, and the 5th Engineer Battalion, and there are 89 individual augmentees who are deployed.
"Today, we have the best-equipped, best trained and best led Army in our history, and it's because of the 1.1 million professional Soldiers, like you, serving in our Army today … still carrying that same sense of patriotism and the devotion to duty which the Soldiers of the continental Army had."
To conclude the ceremony, Yenter re-administered the oath of enlistment and oath for commissioned officers.
"I think it's important to be here this morning on our Army's 237th birthday, mindful of what it really means to be a Soldier," he said. "I encourage you not just to … recite the words, but think about what you're saying. As you do, take pride in being the greatest professionals in the world's greatest Army."
Spc. Benjamin Pendergrass, post Soldier of the Year, and Sgt. 1st Class Brian Watts, Noncommissioned Officer of the Year, also led the units in reciting the Soldier's Creed and NCO's Creed.
Later in the afternoon, at the MSCoE Army Birthday Celebration Luncheon, four special community members helped cut the Army Birthday cakes: the oldest and youngest Soldiers and civilians working here.
Melvin Hagerty, 77, is the second-oldest civilian, and works at the Engineer Warrant Officer Course. He has been a Department of the Army civilian since 1982. Before that, he served in the military for 24 years, five of those in the Vietnam War.
"It's pretty much been my life," he said.
He enjoyed the chance to get together with fellow veterans and civilians to celebrate the Army Birthday.
"(The Army) stood for many years and hopefully will stand for many, many more," he said.
Darren Hunt, 19, is the youngest civilian and works for the Directorate of Public Works.
Pvt. Matthew Galvez, 17, and one of the youngest Soldiers here, cut the cake a day before his Basic Combat Training graduation with Company D, 35th Engineer Battalion.
"It's an honor to be here," he said. "I will be representing the future of the Army, so it's pretty important to me."
Fort Leonard Wood's oldest Soldier, Col. David Hause, 65, is a pathologist with the General Leonard Wood Army Community Hospital.
His goal in attending the Army Birthday event was "to let people like Pvt. Galvez understand our traditions and to celebrate those traditions."
Close to 300 civilians and service members attended the luncheon, which featured performances by the 399th Army Band Rock Band and remarks by Yenter and Dr. Rebecca Johnson, deputy commanding general.
"Today's Army is made up of 278,000 civilians. About 3,800 of these civilians work right here on Fort Leonard Wood," Yenter said. "I speak for all of us here in uniform today when I say that you're work is important and your talent and your skills are appreciated."
Johnson's message focused on the impact civilians can have on the American public by sharing their stories.
"In a time when American citizens are not always as familiar with what our Army does for our nation, we, our Department of the Army civilians, can play a huge strategic role.
Even outside your duty time, it all begins with telling your story and what goes on here at Fort Leonard Wood, and making that connection with our citizens," she said. "We rely on you to do that -- to tell the Army's story: what the Army does, and how strategically important it is for our country, because a strong nation needs a strong military."
In closing, Johnson asked all DA civilians to stand and raise their right hands as she re-administered the civilian oath of service.
The final Army Birthday event of the day, a Streamer and Retreat Ceremony, was held at 4:30 p.m. at the MSCoE Plaza.
During the ceremony, all of the Army's 173 battle streamers were symbolically placed on the Army flag by service members dressed in the military uniform from that specific time period.
Audience members were asked to reflect on the nation's heritage as they watched service members in uniforms from the Revolutionary War to the Global War on Terror approach the flag with streamers. During each time period represented, the 399th Army Band played a different song to go with the corresponding Army campaign.
Following the placing of battle streamers, Yenter gave the audience some final thoughts.
"Today we recognize the 237th birthday of the Army, but we also think about where we came from. It was the patriots of years ago that formed our continental Army, and for 237 years, our Soldiers have been the nation's strength in war and peace," he said.
"Our Soldiers are part of a profession, as are our Department of the Army civilians. But our military Families also play a key role," he said. "Since Sept. 11, 2001, we've been an Army at war, and it's been our wives and our husbands and our mothers, and our fathers, and even our children who have helped carry the load. There are 1.4 million Army Family members, and 12,000 of them are associated with us here at Fort Leonard Wood."
Yenter thanked local communities and citizens for their partnership. Fourteen local communities have made community covenants with Fort Leonard Wood.
"I've been in the Army for 31 years, and I can say with certainty that there is no community, there is no region and there is no state that comes anywhere close to Missouri in the support our military and Families feel here at Fort Leonard Wood," he said.
Yenter also thanked Soldiers from local communities who who were killed in action during the past year and paid the ultimate price for freedom.
During the ceremony, the prototype of a sign that will be displayed at Fort Leonard Wood's gates was unveiled, which states "Your Army -- Our Profession."
To close the ceremony, a bugler played "Retreat" for the lowering of the colors.