The Fort Belvoir USO Warrior and Family Care Center hosted a cookout for Soldiers and Families in the National Capital Region, and members of the Fort Belvoir Warrior Transition Battalion, at the Center Thursday night.
The cookout, attended by special guest Under Secretary of the Army, Dr. Joseph W. Westphal, not only celebrated the service and sacrifice of the nation's servicemembers, but also recognized the Army's 238th birthday. The Montgomery Inn, a barbecue restaurant in Cincinnati, Ohio and contributor to the USO, provided the food that fed more than 500 people during the event.
Westphal attended the cookout and participated in an Army birthday cake cutting ceremony. He cut the cake with Col. Gregory D. Gadson, Fort Belvoir Garrison commander, and Elaine Rogers, president and CEO of the USO of Metropolitan Washington.
Westphal said he felt the event was special because it was the day before the Army birthday, and it commemorates the great work of the men and women who served in the Army throughout the last 238 years.
"We have to keep reminding ourselves there have been times our society wasn't as grateful and aware of what our Soldiers were doing around the world," said Westphal. "We have to keep that in the forefront, we can't go back to a time where we don't appreciate the sacrifice."
Westphal also likes the symbolism of having a cookout for servicemembers the night before the Army birthday and on the grounds President George Washington and Lord Thomas Fairfax once traveled.
"This area, in a way, is the birthplace of our country," said Westphal. "This is where our nation developed as a nation; it took a lot for our forefathers to fire those first shots at Lexington and Concord when our nation wasn't yet established. So, to be in the historical foundation of that is pretty neat."
Pamela Horton, USO Warrior and Family Care Center manager, thinks a restaurant traveling from the Midwest to the East Coast to give a barbecue to servicemembers is also pretty special.
"It's really incredible," said Horton. "For them to come down from Cincinnati is just a great event to give back to the Soldiers. We fed more than 500 people tonight and have the band and games. It's exciting and lifts the morale of everyone here."
The Montgomery Inn, which provided the food and donated $800,000 to the USO last year, was started in 1951 in Montgomery, Ohio and became a contributor to the USO in 2003. The Inn has hosted an annual cookout at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center since 2003. According to Dean Gregory, a part-owner of the inn, they do so to provide whatever service they can to servicemembers.
"It's our way of saying thanks for the sacrifice they've made for us and our country," said Gregory. "It's great to be able to put a smile on their faces."
Gregory was also happy to take part in the Army birthday celebration.
"We always come up around the Army birthday," said Gregory. "It's a big week up here and we just want to be a part of the celebration."
Gregory's decision to come from Cincinnati to Fort Belvoir to provide serivcemembers and their Families a free dinner is an example of the resolve of the American people and the USO, according to Horton.
"It says that the American people are strong and resilient," said Horton. "It also says the USO can reach beyond and we have great partners that want to stand strong. People don't realize how much behind the scenes support the American people truly have for the military."
Staff Sgt. Amanda Mouser, Fort Belvoir Warrior Transition Battalion squad leader, enjoyed the event and said she feels it is a great representation of the USO staff. Mouser also likes that the barbecue gave her squad a chance to socialize.
"The benefit is giving servicemembers and their Families an opportunity to come together, socialize and be a Family," said Mouser. "To get my Soldiers out of the barracks and give them time to socialize with other people is amazing."
Retired Sergeant Nathan Toews attended the event because he has been to the Montgomery Inn in Cincinnati and wanted to eat more of their food. He is thankful they donate to the USO.
"Any organization that does fundraising for the USO is great because the USO does so much for servicemembers at home and abroad," said Toews. "So, any extra funds given to further that cause is great."
Horton is happy the USO did its part to recognize the Army birthday and the servicmembers who attended the cookout.
"One thing the USO knows how to do is through a party," said Horton. "So, to have the under secretary here to cut the cake and help us out is a nice kickoff. The Army birthday is more than just a day, so we want to lead into the celebration."