FORT BELVOIR, Va. (June 12) - Army Chief of Staff Gen. George W. Casey, Jr. continued the Secretary of the Army initiative to include Army children in the 233rd Army Birthday celebration by reading to children at Fort Belvoir's Markham School Age Services today.
One family there personified the hope the authors had that the reading would allow children to better understand the roles their parents play in the Army.
During the reading, Tristian Sharpe, 4, noticed a very familiar figure in one of the photos.
His father, Sgt. Joshua Sharpe of the 212th Military Police Detachment of Headquarters Battalion, Fort Belvoir, was pictured with his military working dog, Kira. He is currently deployed to Iraq.
Tristian let out an estatic "That's my Daddy!" when he saw the picture.
"He was so excited to see him in the book and Tristian had a huge smile afterwards," Heather Sharpe said. "I had no idea he was even in the book.
"I immediately texted him to let him know," she said.
Casey gave the Sharpe family an autographed copy of the book at the end of the ceremony.
"We wanted to highlight for young children the importance of what their parents are doing in the Army, the richness of Army history and their part in this huge, wonderful organization," McGrath said.
Before reading "Happy Birthday Army" to the kids, the children presented Casey with large, hand-made birthday cards commemorating the occasion.
Army Morale, Welfare and Recreation Child Youth Services developed the book and Donna McGrath and Mary Ellen Pratt of Army Youth Services were the authors.
"We have printed 60,000 copies of the book and distributed them Army-wide," McGrath said. "All of the Army garrisons are participating in similar Army Birthday events and each child will receive a book that participates in the program."
The book is heavy on photos, graphics and history and consists of fewer than 25 pages.
"Happy Birthday Army" is told through the eyes of a young child who is celebrating his grandfather's birthday with his immediate family. Throughout the book, the child compares his immediate family to the Army family, to which he is also a part.
History topics covered within the book include George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, the background of the Buffalo Soldiers and Army code talkers. The use of Army animals such as carrier pigeons, horses, mules and dogs are also mentioned.
After finishing reading, Casey let all the children blow out the candles on the Army Birthday cake, before cutting it with a ceremonial sword.
McGrath said she thought the children would take away from the book there is a true sense of Army family and that the Army truly cares about families and what the Soldiers are doing for us today in America.
She also thinks, while the book is primarily aimed to children, it will also allow others the opportunity to see how much the Army cares.
"We want the Soldiers and the rest of America to know the Army takes care of kids," she said. "The Army has made unprecedented investments in Child Development Centers and youth programs to include child and youth services programs, summer programs and respite care."