WASHINGTON -- While reflecting on the Army's nearly two and a half centuries of defending the nation, Secretary of the Army Mark T. Esper said he also remains optimistic about the future of the service he leads.

"We are modernizing the force. We also have a new vision ... that tells us where to go, how to get there, and when. And I'm confident with this vision," Esper said. That vision, the secretary said, ensures that even a decade from now, the U.S. Army will retain its place as "the most dominant, the most lethal fighting force in history."

In the courtyard of the Pentagon on Thursday, Esper was joined by Deputy Secretary of Defense Patrick M. Shanahan, Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. Mark A. Milley, and Sgt. Maj. of the Army Daniel A. Dailey to celebrate the 243rd birthday of the U.S. Army.

The deputy secretary echoed Esper's remarks, saying he too felt good about the Army's direction, especially when it comes to modernization efforts. He also acknowledged the Soldiers, civilians, and families that help keep the Army in the fight.

"We have amazing families that support the missions. And when you look across the globe at the missions our men and women are supporting, it is nothing short of remarkable. We have a remarkable team," Shanahan said.

REENLISTMENT

In addition to celebrating the Army's birthday, the Army's chief of staff also had opportunity to celebrate the decision of 27 Soldiers to recommit to a life in uniform.

Within the headquarters of the U.S. military, those Soldiers stood at attention while Milley administered to them the oath of enlistment, and also took time to explain to them his idea of what that oath means.

"We're taking an oath to a document -- the Constitution of the United States of America -- and we're taking an oath to the idea embedded within that document," Milley said. "In these United States, every single one of us is born free and equal. And you're going to rise to the level of your merit based on your knowledge and skills and your talent. And you're going to be judged by the content of your character, not the color of your skin. That is the core organizing principle of the United States of America."

However, freedom doesn't come without cost, Milley said. The Army chief reminded those in uniform that the oath sometimes requires service members to make a sacrifice.

"That's why we fight, and that's why you're taking this oath," he said. "What you're saying by doing this [oath, is saying] you're willing to die to pass that idea off to the next generation -- so this country does not perish."

Among the group of Soldiers reenlisting were Cpl. Louis Delgado, a human resources specialist, and Spc. Eric White, a wheeled vehicle mechanic. Both Soldiers said they considered themselves lucky to have participated in the birthday event, and to have re-enlisted at the Pentagon.

"I am proud to be a part of the Army team," Delgado said. "They say less than one percent serves in the military, so to be a part of the [Army family] and keep that going for as long as I have, I am proud to be a part of that and keep doing it."

In addition to serving in the U.S. Army Reserve for 13 years, Delgado maintains his commitment to helping others by working as a firefighter and emergency medical technician in Orlando, Florida. As he progresses through his career, Delgado hopes to move up the ranks and pass his love for the Army down through his family before he retires.

On the other hand, White has only served in the Army for a little under four years. Stationed out of Fort Belvoir, Virginia, the young Soldier reenlisted for another two years. However, he maintains his commitment to his goal of completing his graduate degree before leaving the force.

"Reenlisting makes you think back to the past and the other people that have chosen to take the oath and be all that they can be for this great nation. It's very humbling," he said. "You're doing something for the greater good. And it means a lot, not only to me, but to all the other Soldiers here today."

BRING ON THE CAKE

Nearing the end of the ceremony, the oldest and youngest Soldiers in attendance took the stage with Army senior leaders for a cake cutting ceremony.

Command Sgt. Maj. Daniel R. Smith, assigned to the United States Army Band, "Pershing's Own," was nominated as the oldest Soldier for the event. With more than 26 years of service, Smith said he was both honored and inspired to be selected.

On the other end of the spectrum, Pvt. Alexander Coffman, the event's youngest Soldier, has served in the Army for six months. At 18 years old, Coffman enlisted into the force as an infantryman, but was later selected to join the 3d U.S. Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard), the Army's official ceremonial unit.

Optimistic and driven, Coffman said he couldn't wait to see what lies ahead for his Army career.

"Seeing seasoned leaders pass the Army onto junior leaders -- future leaders -- I'm proud to be part of that legacy," Smith said. "The Army has been doing this since 1776."