WASHINGTON -- History will be made Sunday night, the 245th birthday of the Army, when for the first time ever senior leaders will hold a virtual tribute to America. Anyone with internet access is encouraged to tune-in at 7 p.m. ET on Facebook, Twitter or YouTube, and to watch with their Families.
Speakers include Secretary of the Army, Ryan D. McCarthy; Chief of Staff of the Army, Gen. James C. McConville; and Sgt. Maj. of the Army, Michael A. Grinston. With social media, this year’s birthday flagship event has the opportunity to reach a far greater audience than traditional in person events of the past.
“Even in stressful times, it is important we carry on traditions like commemorating birthdays,” said Lt. Gen. Duane A. Gamble, Deputy Chief of Staff, Army G-4. “Right now we have tens of thousands of Soldiers supporting operations around the world, and on this anniversary we want to pay tribute to them, just as we have paid tribute to heroes for 245 years. Our nation is grateful for what they have done.”
Lee Reynolds, strategic communications officer at the U.S. Army Center of Military History, said "usually we honor the Army on our birthday with cakes, but this year it will be remembered for its historical importance, We are having Active, Reserve, and National Guard units all come together, via social media, in the midst of an historic time period.”
Called “The Army at 245: A Tribute to America,” the virtual program replaces large regional and local birthday tributes that could not safely be executed because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Machelle Eitniear, who has experienced 17 Army balls, said the virtual version reminds her of the year the national capital region saluted Vietnam War Soldiers.
“Talking about a difficult subject was challenging then and is challenging this year,” she said. “What’s important is to inform, educate, and to use words, visuals, and music to uplift, which is what the virtual event will be all about.”
This year’s event offers reminders of proud past traditions to commemorate the Army birthday.
For example, the first Army Birthday ball, held in 1960 in Washington, D.C., featured the Army Band’s 16 Herald Trumpeters. During the 2020 virtual ceremony, viewers will hear performances by 85 musicians from The U.S. Army Field Band and Soldiers’ Chorus, but with a twist. Because of social distancing, the musicians could not come together for the performance, so each pre-recorded their segments individually in the studio and the show’s producers are compiling them all together to produce The National Anthem and The Army Song.
In another reminder of past commemorations, the virtual event will feature special guests, including: Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo, an Army veteran; Gen. Mark A Milley, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; Dr. Deborah L. Birx, White House Coronavirus Task Force coordinator, and an Army veteran; and Army veteran and Duke University basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski, who has won more NCAA Division I games than any coach in history.
They join a list of notable birthday moments, such as President Gerald Ford’s attendance at the Army’s 200th birthday in 1975 when the unpopular Vietnam War was ending and the Army was turning into an all-volunteer force, of which most Americans were skeptical of at the time.
Another fond memory from a national capital region ball was a visit by America’s favorite cartoon dog, Snoopy. Snoopy was created by Army World War II veteran, Charles Schulz, who used the dog to teach American children about war, including one cartoon where Snoopy looked at Gen. Eisenhower’s famous words before launching the Normandy invasion.
As with traditional commemorations, there will be an important tribute to fallen Soldiers, which will be introduced by Gen. Michael Garrett, commanding general of U.S. Army Forces Command.
“Commemorating the Army’s birthday provides a unique opportunity to not only recognize those who have gone before us, serving with honor and sacrificing for our country, but also to recognize the service and sacrifice of those men and women serving in today’s all-volunteer Army,” Gamble said. “They had a choice to make -- they didn’t have to -- but they chose to serve.
The hosts, broadcasting from the still-under-construction National Museum of the United States Army, are Sgt. 1st Class Benjamin Pattison, with the Army Chorus from Pershing’s Own, and Sgt. Audrey Santana from The Old Guard.
The production also will be memorable for the way the talented Soldiers and Army Civilians are producing it. “Part of the creative process is people in a room sharing ideas to come up with lyrics,” Eitniear explained. “In this case, because of the virus, we had a compressed timeline with people in different locations, and that is a tough mountain to climb.”
“Putting a virtual presentation together is a tall order, said Col. Jim R. Keene, commander of the U.S. Army Field Band, “but the Field Band has amazingly talented Soldiers, and the group has the advantage of having performed thousands of performances, and is especially experienced in producing multi-media productions.”
Key players include Master Sgt. Adrian Hernandez, the producer and arranger, and video producer Sgt. 1st Class Jared Morgan, who won an Emmy Award as a CBS Sports producer before joining the Army.
“What will make this really special,” Keene said, “is that instead of reaching a thousand people sitting in a ballroom, we will have hundreds of thousands of people, with commands from all over the world participating with their families and hearing directly from leadership at this historic time.”
The Army’s top three leaders will provide their own unique tribute during the commemoration. Recently, all have encouraged leaders of all ranks to lead with compassion and humility, to create an environment for people to feel comfortable expressing grievances, and to encourage leaders to have these conversations, even if they’re uncomfortable.
For the complete list of online activities in which you can participate, go to U.S. Army 2020 Birthday Events page.