REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala. -- Pvt. Jake Betts had two things in mind when he joined the Army eight months ago - make his mother proud and start a career.

Meeting a two-star general was not on the list.

But that's exactly what Betts got to do June 9 when he shared a few moments with Maj. Gen. Jim Myles as the two joined forces as the youngest and the oldest Soldiers at Redstone Arsenal to cut the Army birthday cake at an Army birthday dinner hosted by the Redstone-Huntsville Chapter of the Association of the U.S. Army.

The 18-year-old Betts held his own with the 57-year-old Myles, commander of the Aviation and Missile Command and Redstone Arsenal, as the two grasped the saber and brought it smashing down into a birthday cake celebrating the Army's 235th birthday. The exuberant display took place in front of a crowd of more than 300 at the Officers and Civilians Club that included several Army officers along with military retirees, and corporate and community supporters of the Army.

"I was told 30 minutes before the dinner that I was going to be doing this. I had no idea I was the youngest to be here. I am excited and nervous at the same time," Betts said prior to the cake cutting ceremony.

Betts, from Paragloud, Ark., is also excited - but not nervous - about his Army career plans.

"I want to be a drill sergeant," he said. "I am here at Redstone Arsenal to be an ammunition specialist. I am waiting now for an airborne slot to open at Fort Benning, Ga.

"While I've been here, I've been allowed to lead a platoon. I enjoyed that leadership role very much. It allowed me to help other people. I've never really done that before. Since September, the Army has helped me become more disciplined and way more mature that I use to be."
And he's already had a much better career than anything else that was on his horizon last year.

"One of my friends got me to join," Betts said. "If I hadn't, I'd probably be working a factory job."

It's Soldiers like Betts and the other young enlisted Soldiers attending the birthday dinner as well as the Army's more experienced corps and its retirees that make Myles confident in the ever-increasing capabilities of today's Army.

"I believe this is the best Army that's ever existed on the face of the Earth ... And the reason I believe it is the best Army is, number one, because of those who went before us," Myles told the AUSA audience. "We're learning from those who went before us ... They taught us what right looks like."

He also attributed the Army's strength to maintaining an all-volunteer military and the high level of resources available for today's Army, the result of fighting two long-term wars.

"We've been fighting a threat that has been persistent and consistent. They can keep trying to take us down. But they are going to die tired," Myles said.

"I don't say that because I love war. I love peace and the fact that we are a special place ... We believe in people's individual rights. We believe in being all you can possibly be. We understand tolerance. But when you step across the line and harm United States citizens, someone is going to reach out and grab you."

But beyond providing the nation's oldest service to protect and defend, the Army born in 1775 is also special because it has led and caused change in American society.

The Army isn't about race, religion or gender, "it is about what you can do for this Army. A lot of paradigms were broken by this Army ... The Army has broken down barriers that needed to be broken down so we can lead our country into what's right," Myles said, mentioning the race relations and gender relations of the 1970s and '80s.

"This Army is a change agent. It is all about being given limited resources and then finding out how to complete the mission ... It's about going forward. We have led this country in some of its most significant social changes and along the way we know how to fight."

Myles is proud of the progress he has seen in the Army and the nation during his 35 years of service.

He thanked industry - especially those contractors linked to Redstone Arsenal and its programs - for "giving us the weapon systems we need to go out and protect our way of life."

Unlike the Russians, the U.S. has been able to use those weapons and its expertise to continue the fight for democracy and freedom for eight years in Afghanistan and Iraq.

"And we continue to dominate that area and we will continue to do that until we meet the needs of the president," Myles said. "We will go to them, to those who want to threaten our way of life."

Of today's young Soldiers, the two-star general said "they've got game. They want to serve. They want to sacrifice. They care about others more than self ... We will let them be all they can be in defending our country ... I'm proud to be an American. I'm proud to be a Soldier. I'm proud to work alongside you at the Arsenal."

During the evening, a one-year membership to AUSA was presented in Myles' honor to Betts, and Region 3 awards were presented to key chapter volunteers. Five corporate sponsors - AC Inc., The Huntsville Times, Nexolve, Raytheon and the University of Alabama-Huntsville were recognized for 30 or more years of AUSA membership.

In addition, the 1st Sgt. John Ordway Award was presented to Reserve 1st Sgt. Shawnaree Perez of the 318th Chemical Company, National Guard 1st Sgt. Tonny Pridgen of the 127th Area Support Medical Company and 1st Sgt. Albert Rocker Jr. of Headquarters & Headquarters Company-Garrison.

AUSA also announced a newly created position for vice president of ROTC and JROTC awards, and new directors and board members.

But the most touching presentations of the evening went to the wives of four Soldiers killed in action who are now part of the Arsenal's Survivor Outreach Services, managed through Army Community Service. Jenna Henderson, wife of Sgt. 1st Class Christopher Henderson; Stephanie Little, wife of Spc. Kyle Little; Emily McFall, wife of Staff Sgt. Tom McFall; and Crystal Chaney, wife of Spc. Cole Chaney, were presented with shadowboxes holding a Gold Star Banner, each with their husband's name embroidered on the banner in gold. They also received a resounding and lengthy standing ovation from the audience.

"This is personal. These are family members. These are the people who live with this every day," Myles said of the four Soldier wives. "We've got our arms around you and we're not letting you go."