FORT SILL, Oklahoma (Dec. 13, 2019) -- The Fires Center of Excellence and Fort Sill celebrated the 383rd birthday of the National Guard Dec. 13, with a cake cutting ceremony at Snow Hall.

Maj. Gen. Michael Thompson, Adjutant General for the State of Oklahoma, was the speaker, and it was his 36th year to the day when he joined the Army National Guard.

"I'm very proud … the 'Guard is such an integral part of who we are in defense of the nation," Thompson said.

In his role, Thompson is responsible for Oklahoma's 6,700 Army National Guard Soldiers, and 2,300 Air National Guard airmen.

"I have to make sure they are trained, equipped, and ready," he said. "I take care of them and their families."

Thompson spoke about the history of the National Guard and how it has participated in every campaign since its inception in 1636.

On April 29, 1945, Soldiers from the Oklahoma Army National Guard's 157th Infantry Regiment, 45th Infantry Division, helped liberate Dachau concentration camp and save 28,000 people.

Thompson went to Dachau to attend the 70th anniversary ceremony in April 2015, and met a man who was liberated from the camp.

This 94 year-old man was thanking him profusely and wouldn't stop even after Thompson said he did not have to.

The man told the story of how the camp guards had scheduled him to die April 29. But then he heard shots, saw Americans arriving and the guards fleeing. The man said he thanks God every day, Thompson said.

"He said, 'Because the Army freed me from that horrible place I was able to marry the love of my life,'" Thompson said. The couple would go on to have children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren.

Thompson, who retired as a captain in the Oklahoma Highway Patrol 2017, told how he was activated in 2005. It was the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, and he spent weeks living in an abandoned restaurant during relief efforts.

"There was nothing unique about me because there were 50,000 Citizen-Soldiers, who responded to New Orleans," he said.

Thompson noted National Guard Soldiers from Oklahoma's 158th Field Artillery Regiment will soon deploy to Southwest Asia.

During the celebration, Fort Sill's youngest and oldest National Guard Soldiers cut the birthday cake with Thompson.

Pvt. Elias Zeller, age 17, who is in week 5 of Basic Combat Training with C Battery, 1st Battalion, 40th Field Artillery, said he was honored to cut the cake; he was served the first piece. He added that he is fourth generation military: His father is a retired Army colonel, and his grandfather was a Sailor.

Sgt. Maj. Gerald James, FCoE Headquarters and Headquarters Detachment, 58, is the oldest National Guard Soldier here. He said it was a good feeling cutting the cake. "The National Guard is family."