Watkins Field JBLM Soldiers Gather for Run and Fun in celebration of the 243rd Army Birthday BY SGT. KYLE LARSEN 5th Mobile Public Affairs DetachmentJOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. (June 14, 2018) - Soldiers rose before the sun to attend the largest gathering of troops at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in almost a decade. The sounds of nearly 20,000 pre-formation voices echoed in the darkness of Watkins Field near I Corps Headquarters as members of the unit prepared for the I Corps run. While June 14 marked the 243rd Army birthday, 2018 also marks I Corps' centennial year. In celebration, I Corps organized a day of events designed to lift morale and promote esprit de corps within the Soldiers. As the sun peaked over the horizon, a canon thundered in the distance signaling that the morning's festivities were about to begin. With the smell of gunpowder fresh in the air, Soldiers, young and old, prepared to run four miles in honor of the day. Lt. Gen. Gary Volesky, I Corps' commanding general, led the troops through the streets flooding the roadways with a seemingly endless stream of Soldiers. "When you see all of these soldiers, around 20,000 strong, it makes me proud to be a part of America's First Corps, the best corps in the Army," said Volesky. "It's a formation of Soldiers who volunteered to defend our country and shows why our Army is the best in the world." One Soldier from 1st Squadron, 14th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Battalion, 2nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, enjoyed the pride and closeness that the run promoted within the corps. "It was really inspirational the way that we were able to come together as a family," said Spc. Kevin Denham with sweat dripping from his face. "Seeing all of my senior leadership out here was really motivating and made me proud to be part of First Corps." The festivities continued into the evening as formally dressed Soldiers and civilians gathered at Hotel Murano in Tacoma, Wash., for the Army Birthday Ball. The guests swarmed the banquet hall eager to socialize, as voices carried through the hotel in anticipation of the official party's arrival. The guest speaker, Ret. Gen. Carter F. Ham, greeted the attendees grinning from ear to ear. "I would like all of the military spouses to stand up," said Ham. "You are the strength behind these Soldiers. Without you, they would not be able to accomplish all of the great things they do. This celebration is as much for you as it is for your service member." These celebrations give service members and their significant other an opportunity to relax and enjoy a night of fine dining and dancing, while enjoying the company of others in the military community. One spouse entered the hotel lobby hoping to enjoy a night without children or worries. "I love my kids more than anything in the world, but sometimes we need a break," said Kimberly Larsen, a military spouse attending the ball. "My husband and I have one girl and three boys, so it can be difficult to find the time to get out and spend quality time together. This was a great opportunity to get out of the house, dress up and let our hair down." As the hall filled with people, glasses clinked over laughs while they waited for dinner. There was an important announcement to be made before the staff could bring out the meals. The crowd roared, as Col. Michael McGregor, the event's master of ceremony, called the Best Warrior Competition participants to the stage. After a month of secrecy, he announced the winners of the competition. "The winner of First Corps' Soldier of the year is Spc. Calvin Miller from 555th Engineer Brigade," said McGregor as the Miller stepped forward. "The Non-Commissioned Officer of the year is Sgt. Arbinda Upreti from 2nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division. They will continue on and travel to compete in the U.S. Forces Command Soldier and NCO of the year competition." The winners received Meritorious Service Medals and gift bags. Other winners include: 1st Sgt. Brenden Shannon, 1st Battalion, 2nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team; Chief Warrant Officer 3 John R. Losey, 110th CBRN Battalion; and Lt. Shawn Burrows, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division. The crowd applauded the winners before they made their way off stage. Throughout the year, Soldiers work hard sacrificing time and energy away from family. So, when the formal part of the night was complete, service members and their guests took the opportunity to crowd the dance floor and let loose. From the beginning to the end, Soldiers ran, ate and celebrated together in honor of this historic event and rounded out the Army's birthday and 100 years of America's First Corps.