A changing of the guard, speeches that mentioned Soldiers who are living the Army's warrior ethos, the presentation of a first sergeant award and a sword-smashing cake cutting were highlights of an evening honoring the Army's 234th birthday at the Officers and Civilians Club.

The dinner event, set for June 9 because the actual birthday date of June 14 fell this year on a Sunday, was hosted by the Redstone-Huntsville Chapter of the Association of the U.S. Army.

Pvt. Michael Ortiz of the 832nd Ordnance Battalion won the honors to share the ceremonial cake cutting duty with AMCOM's Command Sgt. Maj. Ricky Yates. At age 17, Ortiz is the youngest Soldier currently assigned to Redstone Arsenal.

"I love the military bearing of the Army," said Ortiz, whose hometown is Queens, N.Y. "I attended the Youth Challenge Academy in New Jersey and my uncle served in the Gulf War, so I knew about the military. I like that it helps you a lot with your life, and helps you get an education."

Ortiz has been at Redstone Arsenal since early April. He is attending the Multiple Launch Rocket System repair course at OMEMS and will complete his training at the end of September. Ortiz hopes to then go on to airborne school.

"My mom's proud," he said. "I definitely plan to make this a career and do my 20 years."

It is the Soldier who makes today's Army great, said Maj. Gen. Jim Myles, commander of the Aviation and Missile Command and Redstone Arsenal.

"The building block of our Army is the Soldiers who are willing to be led by NCOs," he said. "They are the backbone of the Army. They are the reason why we are the best Army on earth."

As the evening's keynote speaker, Myles went on to say that the Army is "the highest and most credible institution. We have something that most industries strive for - credibility. And we've earned this not with just one single event. It's quality actions every day."

He said today's Soldiers exhibit loyalty, integrity, courage and responsibility in fulfilling the warrior ethos.

"We are the best Army because we stand on the shoulders of those Soldiers and families who have come before us. We stand on your shoulders in Iraq and Afghanistan," Myles said to the AUSA audience, many of which are retired military. "We are one force. We've listened to you and taken it to the next level."

Earlier in the day, Myles participated in the military funeral of Staff Sgt. Jeffrey Hall of Huntsville, a Ranger from the 10th Mountain Division who was killed by an improvised explosive device in Afghanistan.

"We lost a great Soldier. We lost a great person," he said.

Myles also described an emergency room in Balad, Iraq, where he recently witnessed Soldiers lining up and providing more than 200 pints of blood in hopes of saving the life of a medic, Cpl. Charles Parrish of Jasper, whose funeral Myles was also scheduled to attend.

"These Soldiers showed the elements of the warrior ethos," he said about the Soldiers who tried to help Parrish. "They never quit. They stood up and gave their lifeblood ... What goes on in Iraq and Afghanistan and around the world every day is buddies helping buddies, Soldiers helping Soldiers. Soldiers will do anything for anybody around the world to make a difference."

The Army is making a difference for freedom in Iraq and Afghanistan, but also in places like Africa, South America and Latin America, where its forces are involved in nation building. He also mentioned the National Guard, whose troops are responding to Army needs on the homefront and in the international arena.

The active Army, Reserves and National Guard is an Army that "has to be prepared to fight fires and floods and hurricanes while conducting combat operations in Iraq, Afghanistan and around the world," said Myles, who recently returned from visiting military operations in Africa, Italy, Iraq, Afghanistan and Kuwait.

"This is an Army that helps build coalitions and helps enable peace around the world."

Iraq has taught the Army a lesson that it hopes to implement successfully now in the turbulent environment of Afghanistan.

"Soldiers on the ground are the best ambassadors," he said. "When there are Soldiers on the ground there often is electricity, running water and sometimes air conditioning. But most importantly there is peace."

The general said the U.S. and its Army will continue to put down terrorist threats wherever they may be and will continue to pursue those who want to destroy freedom and the American way of life.

"We will hunt you down and eliminate you from doing us harm," Myles said.

Myles commended the AUSA chapter for its five wins as chapter of the year for the worldwide organization.

"You have the reputation of having supported our Army Soldiers and their families better than any other chapter," he said, predicting the chapter will win the highly coveted award for a sixth year.

He urged the chapter to continue to provide support to military families, many of which have endured three deployments during the past seven years.

"Three deployments is three years of missing family celebrations, anniversaries, birthdays of children and grandchildren, and losing loved ones," Myles said. "On top of that, families worry during those deployments about whether their loved one will come home or not."

The officers of the local AUSA chapter take their role in providing that support seriously. Turning the helm of the chapter over to incoming president Steve Taylor, outgoing president Mike Howell said he's had the "honor and a privilege of being your president ... This is a disciplined team of volunteers who are always ready to excel and set the bar higher."

Howell thanked the chapter's leadership for "answering the call to serve Soldiers and this community so well."

The chapter sponsors or co-sponsors several local military events each year, including this week's Armed Forces Celebration, and Blue Star Service Banner programs, the Veterans Day Dinner, Tactical Missile Conference, Operation Christmas Bear, Soldier recognitions, military appreciation nights at sporting events and the Department of the Army Civilian of the Year Award.

Because of its work, the chapter has been AUSA's chapter of the year for five years in a row. But, Taylor doesn't want the chapter's volunteers to rest on its laurels during his two-year term.

"All the streamers you see on our AUSA chapter flag don't mean a darn thing if we lose our focus," he said. "We will not indeed lose our focus. We must keep working to know as a chapter that we've done everything we can do to stick close to the guidance of AUSA" to be the voice of the Army, and to support Soldiers and their families.

Taylor thanked the chapter's 323 corporate members for their financial support, saying they make it possible for the chapter to host numerous events for Soldiers.

During the evening, three first sergeants - each representing a different branch of the Army - were presented with the 1st Sgt. John Ordway Award. They were: 1st Sgt. Terrence Hamil, active Army; 1st Sgt. Doug Witt, Alabama Army National Guard; and 1st Sgt. Mikey Harris, Army Reserve.

Besides swearing in Taylor as AUSA's new president, AUSA state president Bob Drolet swore in the following officers in their new positions: Paul Elliott, executive vice president; April Caravella, treasurer; Kurt Weidenthal, secretary; Command Sgt. Maj. Ralph Borja, vice president of enlisted affairs; Pam Caruso, vice president of DA civilian affairs; Marc Jacobson, vice president of legislative affairs; Donna Palumbo, vice president of chapter support; Kris McBride, vice president of awards and recognition; John Wright, vice president of satellite chapter activities; Sofia Bledsoe, vice president at large (AMCOM/Garrison), and Richard Rhoades and Steve Humphrey, special advisers to the board. New board members included Laura Ayers, Frank Caravella, Tom Economy, Steve Messervy, John Olshefski, Matthew Schmitz, Bill Stevenson and Mark Umansky.