In celebration of Armed Forces Week, Aberdeen Proving Ground hosted "Our Community Salutes," a recognition ceremony to honor future service members who have recently enlisted in the U.S. Armed Forces, at the APG North (Aberdeen) recreation center May 13.
Sixty men and women from across Maryland, including 40 Army, 15 Marine and five Navy recruits and their families, were honored by APG senior leaders and local dignitaries.
"These men and women from our community have answered the nation's call to serve," said mistress of ceremonies Sgt. 1st Class Tameka Dixon. "They have all enlisted in the armed forces and will ship off to recruit training and basic training in the months to come."
Capt. Nicholas Milano, APG Garrison Headquarters and Headquarters Company commander and event organizer, explained that the ceremony -- the first of its kind at APG -- was initiated by APG Senior Commander Maj. Gen. Bruce T. Crawford and APG Senior Command Sgt. Maj. William G. Bruns. He said they sought to recognize future service members, just as the community recognizes young people heading off to college or beginning their careers.
Maj. Gen. Peter D. Utley, commanding general of the U.S. Army Test and Evaluation Command, thanked the future service members for making the commitment to support and defend the U.S. Constitution.
"Armed Forces Week would not be complete if we didn't recognize our future generation," Utley said. "Those here today truly deserve our unwavering support and respect."
He said he recognized the complex and difficult conditions this new generation of Americans will face. He added that these men and women, many of whom are 21-years-old and younger, are smart and motivated, and he's "very confident they will succeed."
In recognition of the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War, Utley also took a moment to honor Vietnam War veterans, and thanked them for their service to the nation. Quoting President Barack Obama, he said, "'While no words will ever be fully worthy of their service, nor any honor truly befitting their sacrifice, let us remember that it is never too late to pay tribute to the men and women who answered the call of duty with courage and valor.'"
The ceremony also recognized the parents and family members of future Soldiers, Marines and Sailors for their outstanding sacrifice and dedication. Additionally, parents and guardians received a token of appreciation for raising men and women who will serve, protect and defend the nation.
"You have given America your most precious resource to defend our great nation," Dixon said.
Bruns and Dianne Crawford, wife of Maj. Gen. Crawford, presented certificates of appreciation, personalized Armed Forces Week identification "dog tags" and personalized 2-star notes to each future service member.
Dixon offered a rousing welcome to all the new armed forces recruits.
"Congratulations on your decision to enlist in the United States Armed Forces, the greatest fighting force the world has ever known. On behalf of the U.S. Army, I welcome you into the ranks and wish you the very best in the ventures that lie ahead."
After the ceremony, which was followed by a cake-cutting and reception, the future service members and their families shared memories, laughter and tears.
Susanna Ayala-Ray said she attended the ceremony to support her niece, Jasmine Ayala, 17, who has enlisted in the Marine Corps and will begin recruit training at Parris Island, South Carolina Sept. 9.
"I'm very proud of her. I'm going to miss her dearly, but she's making a good choice for herself," she said. "She's motivated and it's just going to build her a better future."
Ayala said she joined the Marine Corps because she was looking for a challenge, and the armed forces was a natural fit because she descends from a long line of service members.
"I knew that I wanted to do something that involved the armed forces, because it is a selfless thing to do," Ayala said. "I believe I'll be changed as a better person [and] be a lot more dedicated to helping those around me."
Elsyd Lapa, 20, said he has thought about joining the Army since he was a child. This year, he finally decided to make his dream a reality.
"I've been a big fan of the Army ever since I was a kid," he said.
Lapa begins basic training July 20 at Fort Jackson, South Carolina. He and his family emigrated from the Philippines five years ago.
"America [has] the largest and strongest military in the world," Lapa said.
Attendees included Brig. Gen. J.B. Burton, commander of the 20th CBRNE Command; APG Garrison Commander Col. Gregory R. McClinton; Lt. Col. David Zinnante, Kirk U.S. Army Health Clinic Commander; Garrison Command Sgt. Maj. Jeffery O. Adams; Command Sgt. Maj. Harold Dunn, 20th CBRNE Command; Mayor of Aberdeen Michael E. Bennett; and Bret Schreiber, Harford County director of governmental and community relations.