Children discover that birthday parties aren't always just about cake

HELEMANO MILITARY RESERVATION, Hawaii - The children talked excitedly amongst themselves, their eyes lighting up at the sight of a red, white and blue cake, featuring 234 gold-tipped candles standing at attention.

The cake was actually a faux creation, with several edible chocolate and vanilla cakes situated nearby.

Still, the anticipation for the keiki was real. Unfortunately for the children, however, the director of the Child Development Center (CDC), here, had other plans.

"I don't think we could really blow out 234 candles," Julie Ariola informed more than 100 children from the CDC and the School Age Services (SAS), who had gathered to celebrate the U.S. Army's 234th birthday, June 17. "I think that would be too much."

Instead, Ariola diverted the children's attention away from the faux cake and invited them to save their collective breaths for "The Happy Birthday To You" song. Then, she added, they could all wrap their mouths around the patriotically designed, yet scrumptiously edible cakes.

Disappointed as they might have been, the children agreed before they enthusiastically began to sing their little hearts out.

"Happy birthday, dear Army. Happy birthday to you!" they sang as CDC administrators and teachers joined in, along with special guests Jim Duttweiler, deputy garrison commander, U.S. Army Garrison-Hawaii (USAG-HI), and state Rep. Michael Magaoay, 46th District (Laie-North Shore-Schofield-Wheeler).

Magaoay, who was invited to attend the celebration by Barbara Potter, SAS assistant director, called it an honor to be among those celebrating the Army's birthday and its deep commitment to core values and beliefs.

"It's a pleasure to be here, and especially to be listening to the kids as they say things like, 'My dad is in the Army' and 'My daddy flies a plane,'" the lawmaker said. "To see that they're occupied while their parents are (deployed), fighting for us, is just wonderful."

Patriotic characters such as Lady Liberty (Sene Akamu, CDC clerk), Uncle Sam (Jezael Gonzalez, caregiver) and Ben Franklin (Roberto Ramos, parent) also made guests appearances at HMR, as Duttweiler got the program started by reading the story of "Sam the Army Dog" to the children, who ranged in ages from newborn to 9.

Assisting during the reading of the Army birthday story was "Sam's sister," a dog named Savannah, who, when not mingling with children, could be found walking in circles around Duttweiler. Savannah belongs to Ginger Phillips, assistant director of the CDC at HMR.

"Kids love to be read to," Duttweiler said, "and what's really fun is when you have good stuff like 'Sam the Army Dog' to read to them. They love to see the pictures, and they love to listen to the story. And it does sink in, because they remember things about Sam, so that when they go home, they can talk about their Army dog or their Army cat."

The birthday celebration at HMR was just one of several programs taking place at USAG-HI CDCs across Oahu, June 14-19.

At Aliamanu Military Reservation (AMR), families celebrated by reciting the Pledge of Allegiance and singing "America the Beautiful." Parents and children participated in a red, white and blue parade, waving flags and making stops at several locations, including the Middle School Team (MST) and SAS offices, as well as the AMR Community Center. After the parade children enjoyed cake while listening to the birthday story read by volunteers.

At the Fort Shafter CDC, families also participated in a parade, calling cadence prior to reading the birthday story.

Fun-filled events, including face painting, a bounce house and bean bag toss game, kept children entertained. Following the program, the keiki received a copy of the Army birthday story.

Finally, children enjoyed cake and listened to a retiree read the Army birthday story at Schofield Barracks' CDC, while those at Peterson CDC celebrated with a snack picnic that included icy-cool treats.