FORT RUCKER, Ala. (December 20, 2013) -- Though the focus during this time of year is on the holidays, one tradition didn't go by unnoticed with the celebration of an institution that dates back nearly 140 years before the nation was founded.

Fort Rucker celebrated the 377th Army National Guard birthday Dec. 13 in the regimental conference room of the U.S. Army Aviation Center of Excellence Headquarters to remember and honor those who served the nation before it was united.

"(The Army National Guard) started in 1636 as the first voluntary militia … and we are a proud component of the total Army, but we are proud of our history," said Lt. Col. Steve Nicolucci, Army National Guard deputy assistant commandant and senior guard adviser. "To acknowledge the questions of some of the people in the audience, yes, we are more than 100 years older than the regular Army's birthday celebration, and proud of it."

The National Guard was organized from militia and was officially born when the Massachusetts general court declared the colony's existing militia companies be organized into three regiments on Dec. 13, 1636.

Nicolucci also took the opportunity to thank Fort Rucker's senior leadership for the chance to have the ceremony and acknowledge the history of the National Guard.

The celebration kicked off with a buffet-style meal fit for the holiday season with turkey, ham, stuffing and all the trimmings. The banquet even featured edible centerpieces made of marshmallows and candy canes.

After everyone had gotten their fill, the celebration took a more traditional turn by recognizing the oldest and youngest National Guard members among the ranks for the cake cutting: CW5 Max A. Dean, Warrant Officer Career College Army National Guard deputy commandant, and Pvt. Corey Edwards, A Company, 1st Battalion, 13th Aviation Regiment.

"As tradition dictates, these two Soldiers will cut the cake with a traditional sabre as a reminder that we are a band of warriors committed to carry on so that our nation may live in peace," said the narrator for the ceremony.

Dean is 52 years of age and has been a member of the Army National Guard for 29 years and 8 months, and Edwards is 18 years of age and enlisted in the New York Army National Guard Feb. 27.

"It feels really good to be able to cut the cake and be a part of a tradition that has been going on for this many years," said Edwards.

"This is a proud tradition for the Army National Guard," said Dean. "This is the first time that I've represented the Army National Guard as the oldest member cutting the cake, but it's an honor that I've enjoyed very much."

Dean and Edwards both feel that traditions, like the celebration of the National Guard's birthday, help keep the force together.

"I believe these traditions uphold morale," said Edwards. "It's always the little stuff that nobody thinks about -- simple traditions that we don't really practice that often anymore. It's those that make Soldiers feel good and gives us a feeling of purpose."

Dean agreed.

"I feel that as a military, as a whole, we've sort of gotten away from traditions and customs," he said. "It's good to carry them on to let the future generations understand and know what the past generations went through and sacrificed, and then to be able to pass them on to the next generation after them."