As the light of dawn slowly warmed the horizon of an unusually chilly June 14 morning at Fort Knox, several columns of Soldiers, civilian employees, Family members and residents from surrounding communities gathered on Brooks Field.

Major Gen. John Evans Jr., commander of U.S. Army Cadet Command and Fort Knox, encouraged those standing in formation for the start of a 5K run to take a moment to reflect on the Army's heritage.

"This is a big deal for our Army," said Evans. "A lot of people kind of let the Army's birthday go by. They don't think much about it but I'll tell you, for 244 years we've been the most awesome land combat power in history.

"Starting at Bunker Hill all the way through Baghdad, there's nothing like us anywhere."

Evans said he is proud to have a rich blend of active duty Soldiers, civilians, Army Reserve and National Guard units represented together at the post.

"You can be rightly proud to be standing here as part of the almost 1.5 million people that make up our Army," said Evans.

Before turning the formation over to Command Sgt. Maj. Mario Terenas, his senior enlisted advisor, Evans ordered the units to conduct an about face toward the senior officers' and noncommissioned officers' quarters across the field. He then commanded them to wake up everybody hoping to sleep in "on the count of three--

"One, two, three -- 'Happy Birthday, Army!'" they thundered into the morning air.

Runners from all the major units and organizations on post snaked their way toward Evans' home, Quarters 1, for the start of the run. Among them was Brandon Schmidt, who has worked at U.S. Army Recruiting Command's G6 communications office since the fall of 2015.

Schmidt, who was unable to join the Army due to a dirt bike accident that left him paralyzed when he was 18, participated in an Army day run for the first time.

"The more and more I'm around the Army, the more I respect what they've done," said Schmidt. "If it wasn't for them out there doing what they do, I would haven't the freedoms I do."

The morning celebration concluded with a traditional campaign streamer ceremony, conducted by members of the Fort Knox Sergeant Audie Murphy Club. The Army colors were lowered while Terenas fastened each of the 190 campaign streamers to it. The streamers signify involvement in several major battles during global conflicts since the Continental Congress established the Army in 1775.

Teenagers from the Bluegrass ChalleNGe Academy also participated in the run and streamer ceremony. They will be graduating June 15 and their commandant, Command Sgt. Maj. Michael Major, said it was a great way for the youngsters to prepare for their future.

"It's a pride thing," said Major. "We're trying to teach our kids about our heritage in the military; we teach them about what Soldiers have endured during their time in the military."

He said the streamer ceremony in particular touched his students.

"These young people take it to heart when the commander and command sergeant major tell them the heritage and history of the Army," said Major. "I think they're going to walk away with a better understanding of not just what the Soldiers endure, but their Families, too. And they got a better understanding of what Soldiers do."

Several people gathered in the Saber & Quill during lunchtime for the first of two cake-cutting ceremonies.

Sponsored by the Fort Knox Chapter Association of the U.S. Army, Evans joined retired Gen. Carter Ham and Fort Knox Gold Neighbor Carl Cornelius to cut the cake. Ham spoke afterward.

"Everybody says they support the troops, but it's interesting you don't say that here, because you don't have to," said Ham, reflecting on the times in his career when he visited Fort Knox. "You can feel it; it's a tangible love of Soldiers and the nation. It's genuine here. It's always nice to come back to a place where people say, 'This is our Army. This is our nation.'"

Ham then turned his attention to the history of the Army's legacy that began with the nation's first president.

"The day after the formation of the Army by the Continental Congress, they appointed its first commander by a unanimous vote -- George Washington. What most people don't know is General Washington accepted the position without compensation," said Ham. "Today, we have an Army Value of Selfless Service, and I think that started on June 15, 1775, when our first Commander-in-Chief said he would serve without compensation."

For the evening celebration, Soldiers gathered at Sadowski Center to witness another Army tradition -- the second cutting of the birthday cake. Evans said while it may be a common tradition in the Army, nobody else would be celebrating it quite like they did -- at center ring before the start of Ohio Valley Wrestling in Sadowski Center.

"This is an opportunity to blend tradition with the unconventional," said Evans.

The crowd was treated to a pre-event wrestling match prior to the national anthem and a flag-folding demonstration performed by two members of the U.S. Army Human Resources Command honor guard. Evans and Terenas, along with 1st Theater Sustainment Command Chaplain (Col.) Timothy Walls, considered the oldest Soldier at Fort Knox, and Pfc. Zachary Partridge, the youngest Soldier, buried a saber into the cake.

After the first wrestling match between three competitors, OVW wrestling competitor and Army veteran Michael Hayes entered the arena to thunderous applause. He was born at Fort Knox and served overseas, losing a leg during a combat mission.

"I've spent a lot of time in the wrestling business and I love it dearly, but nothing, nothing in my life will replace my time serving in the United States military," said Hayes.

Evans offered praise to the other services for what they bring to the fight during conflicts, but explained what makes the Army's Birthday extra special every year.

"When our adversaries across the world threaten us and we are trying to coerce them to stop, we may send the Air Force," said Evans. "When we see people threaten the global commons, we may put an aircraft carrier out there and send the Navy; and there will always be a complement of Marines out there with them.

"But when somebody threatens our safety and we have to crush their very souls, we send the United States Army."