WASHINGTON (Army News Service) -- In the Pentagon's center courtyard on June 17, the secretary of the Army, chief of staff and two newly re-enlisted Soldiers put their hands and backs to the hilt of a broad gleaming cavalry sabre and shared in slicing through the center of the Army's huge 241st birthday cake.
Before the cake was wheeled across by Soldiers of the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment (Old Guard), Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Milley re-enlisted a pair of Soldiers -- Sgt. Justin Louis and Spc. Jan BBanga -- but not before turning to the audience to explain the significance behind the oath.
"It's worth reminding ourselves of what this oath means," Milley said. "It's about 189 countries in the United Nations in the world today and the only one I am aware of whose military takes an oath of allegiance not to an individual, a king or queen or to a state -- we take an oath of allegiance to the Constitution and we are saying we are willing to die for that idea.
"So what is this idea -- it's a powerful idea -- a powerful idea so powerful it has brought down tyrannies and built countries like our own, yet it's a very simple idea and it's an idea that says: no matter who you are; no matter what the color of your skin; no matter what is in the content of your religious belief or whether you don't believe at all, it doesn't matter where you came from; it doesn't matter what your sexual identification is; it doesn't matter whether your gender is male or female or something else; it doesn't matter who the hell you are if you're an American.
"In America… in my country, the one I'm willing to die for, all men and all women and all people are created equal and will be treated under the law equally," Milley boomed. "That is the idea and that is the idea from which these two young men are about to re-enlist in the United States Army for, so for those of you in uniform, I ask that you repeat the oath to yourself quietly while I administer it and that you reflect upon its deep meaning and what it means not only now, but what it means in the future for the sacrifices that we will undoubtedly be called upon to make."
Secretary of the Army Eric K. Fanning also addressed the audience made up of Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines and Pentagon civilian workers, saying that the day before, he and Milley had been to Fort Hood, Texas, to pay tribute to eight Soldiers from 3rd Battalion, 16th Field Artillery Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division and one cadet from West Point who were killed in a flash flood while conducting convoy training operations, June 2.
"Yesterday, I grieved with our forefront family with the chief… I heard the stories of those volunteer Soldiers and I felt the void that their loss has created," Fanning said. "This is a serious profession with serious risks whether fighting ISIS in the Middle East, responding to disaster in Middle America or enjoying a Saturday night with friends in Orlando or anywhere else in the world… we must remain ready… and we are."
Fanning had also visited some 30,000 Soldiers, allies and friends in Europe, saying that he could see the strength of actions of the total force and the resolve of allies and partners as they trained in full view of those who would threaten NATO.
RUN THROUGH ARLINGTON NATIONAL CEMETERY
Seven hours earlier at 0700-sharp hundreds of Soldiers and brethren Marines poured through the narrow streets of Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall to commemorate the Army birthday on a three-mile somber trek that took them through part of Arlington National Cemetery. Personal sacrifice lies in the thousands of grave markers set here since the Civil War.
Lt. Gen. Gary Cheek, Army Staff director and Army Under Secretary Patrick Murphy led the run which turns silent to voices as the Soldiers move through the cemetery. There are no hooahs, little talking, just huffing under the dampness of the DC morning.
"It's always great to get out with Soldiers to run... especially when I'm surrounded with some really strong 19-year-olds who help me feel young," Cheek laughs. He lives on post and likes to keep soldiering in perspective and does so by slipping through the cemetery alone with just his foot slaps landing on the asphalt to remind him of where he is.
"This run, going through the cemetery reminds me of the generations of Americans who have passed the colors of the Army before us," he said. "Today, these young Soldiers hold those colors and we cannot fail them... they will hand those colors to the next generation, so this is part of that story, making sure we understand where we came from so we know where we're going."