FORT JACKSON, S.C. (May 22, 2014) -- Dozens of new Soldiers started their careers last week under the watchful eyes of the men and women who went before them.

The post's annual Retiree Appreciation Days event began Thursday morning during graduation ceremonies. Dozens of retirees from all branches of the armed forces gathered at the Solomon Center to observe the two companies of graduating Soldiers recite the Soldier's Creed and take their first career steps.

"Today's graduation is about coming full circle," said Kenneth Preston, guest speaker for last week's graduation. Preston retired in 2011 after more than seven years of service as the sergeant major of the Army, the longest anyone has held the position since it was created in 1966.

"Today, here in the audience, we pass the torch of service to these men and women that stand here before you," Preston said. "For those of us who have worn the uniform of a Soldier - or any of our military services - we feel immense pride as we look at this new generation of men and women who have volunteered to serve our country and (become) part of something much bigger than themselves."

Graduation was just the beginning of the post's Retiree Appreciation Days activities, which started as a single-day celebration but has since grown to include three days of activities on Fort Jackson.

Mike Molosso, deputy commandant of the Adjutant General School and chairman of the Fort Jackson Retiree Council, said the post's responsibilities to its Soldiers don't end with a graduation ceremony. This commitment lasts a lifetime, he said.

"This is Fort Jackson's opportunity to make all retired service members in the area aware of what services are available, to show our appreciation and thanks for their service, and to make sure they understand they're welcome here at Fort Jackson," Molosso said.

Fort Jackson's roster of activities during Retiree Appreciation Days is unusually diverse when compared to other installations, he said.

"As chief of staff of the Army Retiree Council, as well, I have had the opportunity to hear other council chairmen talk about the support they receive," he said. "Retired Soldiers and families all over the Army receive tremendous support, but, in listening to a lot of those stories, I don't think there's any installation in the Army that provides support to retired service members and their families the way Fort Jackson does."

The post has an unusually strong relationship not only with the surrounding community, but with its veterans, Molosso said. Because of Fort Jackson's role as a training center, it's difficult to find a Soldier who doesn't have some kind of connection to the installation. The veterans taking part in last week's activities, which also included a golf tournament, bowling tournament and a health and benefits fair, represented hundreds of years of service to every branch of the armed forces.

"When I accepted my job here as the commandant of the Adjutant General School, I had many of my wife's family (members) come down here," Molosso said. "A couple of them had actually gone to basic training here at Fort Jackson. It's a small world - you can find someone who has come to Fort Jackson during basic training or has served at Fort Jackson virtually anywhere you go."

During his speech to Soldiers, families, friends and retirees during last week's graduation ceremonies, Preston said those ties with military service are difficult to sever.

"Like all of you, I'm very proud of this newest generation of Soldiers standing before you," Preston said. "I am proud of all that they will do to represent our nation ... once a Soldier, always a Soldier, a Soldier for life."