GUANTANAMO BAY, Cuba - As guests entered, they were transported back to the nostalgic era of World War II. The evening customs performed during a tradition military banquet were strategically designed to pay homage to the 70th Anniversary of D-Day, as well as recognize all that the Army has accomplished since its birth 239 years ago.
Joint Task Force Guantanamo's Joint Detention Group hosted the ball Saturday, June 7 in the Windjammer Ballroom.
"We take this year's ball theme from the pages of that history on the D-Day landings in 1944," said Army Col. John Bogdan, JDG commander. "The theme Victory through Alliance has its roots in the alliance of nations that banded together and fought that war (WWII), but tonight it has a deeper meaning, as we consider the alliance of our army with its sister services, most notably as we serve here today beside our brothers and sisters of all services in this Joint Task Force."
The main events began with a detailed history of the campaigns fought bravely by Soldiers over centuries, as the battle streamers were placed on the Army Flag. The lengthy list of heroic actions and battle strategies further emphasized the Army's ability to meet their mission: to fight and win the nation's wars.
Guest speaker, Marine Gen. John F. Kelly, commander of U.S. Southern Command, focused on the continued resolve in dedicated Soldiers, both past and present, to give their all for American freedom. He began with the story of an Army infantryman with the 82nd Airborne in the Battle of the Bulge, who refused to allow the enemy past his point.
"The price in this war was high, terribly high. Your losses, our Army's losses were horrific... but it had to be done. There was no other way. Men filled with that kind of recklessness, with that kind of hate for all that is good in our world, simply have to be crushed," said Kelly.
He went on to remind everyone in the room that this nation is still at war, and might be for sometime in the future. "It is not in our power to end this war, but simply to fight it until our murderous enemy who hates us with a visceral disgust for everything we stand for either gives up or is convinced that he cannot win."
Kelly continued that the latest opposition that is still being fought against terrorism, "he is as dangerous as any opponent we have ever faced in our history. He is more complex than we have ever fought, fights by no accepted rules of conflict, and for no goals that anyone that is rational and decent, regardless of their religion could ever understand."
His speech concluded detailing the heroic actions of another Soldier who served his country until the day of his death during Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2005. Army Sgt. First Class Paul Smith climbed into an unprotected fighting position, manned a .50-caliber machine gun, and drew enemy fire away from his troops.
His heroic actions allowed his fellow Soldiers to move forward, to even move forward in their lives, surviving the battle due to his ultimate sacrifice. His brothers will never forget his actions, and the Army should never forget the actions of Soldiers like him and of the historical lineage, etched in tradition, courage, honor and glory that the men and women of today's fighting force still emulate today.
"It is what men and women like you do," said Kelly. You are, I believe, the finest this nation produces. You should be proud of who you are, of what you do for your country, for our people, and as long as men and women like you are willing to step forward our America will be safe and continue to serve as a shining beacon on the hill for generations forever into the future."
To Army Sgt. Ryan Padgett, a member of the Army Ball committee and a Soldier with Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 525th Military Police Battalion, the evenings events symbolized more than a night of celebrating another candle on the Army's cake, instead it became about celebrating one another - Soldiers past and present and the camaraderie they share.
"The Army is like a family, especially in this kind of environment and being away from your normal group of family and friends," said Padgett. "When we take time like this to think about the Army birthday, our history and the Soldier that have fallen, it makes me really appreciate the men and women that I serve with every day."