By Megan NeunanJune 14, 2011
WASHINGTON (Army News Service, June 14, 2011) -- "It's a huge family thing for me. I look to my right and left and I see my battle buddies, and I know they're family," said Spc. John Dennis Ray Finney. "But, today, just kind of reaffirms that, just kind of makes me go, yeah, we're all a part of the same team."
Back from a year-long deployment in Iraq where he worked with detainees and pulled patrols, Finney said that year made him big on Soldier-to-Soldier camaraderie.
That was just one reason he re-enlisted during the Army's 236th birthday celebration at the Pentagon, June 14, 2011. Re-enlist is also just what Finneys do, he said. Both of his grandfathers served, his uncles served in Vietnam, his step-dad is retired from the Navy and his little brother is in the Navy today.
Finney followed the family tradition and enlisted at 19, fresh out of high school. He still makes light of the tradition of heroism.
"Coming from a small town in Missouri, there wasn't much option for a job. It was either this or working at McDonalds, and I like the Army a little bit more," he said.
The reliability of an Army job was a draw for Finney, but it took a promise to call and write to convince his mom the reliable job was the right job. Despite being part of a big military family, his mom was divided about both his first and second enlistments.
He recalls telling her about Iraq.
"My mom went ghost white. She's like, 'take care of yourself,'" he said.
Today was a particularly proud day for families like the Finney's. Soldiers and senior Army leaders gathered in the Pentagon courtyard not only to sing happy 236th birthday to the Army, but also to celebrate re-enlistments. Soldiers re-upping raised their right hands and recited the oath of enlistment before Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey.
The 30-minute ceremony ended with senior leaders, from Dempsey to Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates, shaking the hands of Soldiers and encouraging them.
Dempsey told Finney he was proud of him and thanked him.
Former Army chief of staff and retired general Gordon R. Sullivan encouraged pride in the re-enlistees.
"Knowing what is liable to happen -- that is -- more of the same -- they're still willing to do it. That is a pretty good indication of the kind of young people we have, "said Sullivan, now president of the Association of the United States Army.
The men and women in the front row of the courtyard today are, in fact, part of a small group in America. Out of a population of over 300 million people, just three million serve in the military -- less than one percent of the population.
"I'd like to see more and more of them," Sullivan added.
The number of Americans enlisting in the Army once, much less twice is dwindling, but Soldiers at the Pentagon were quick to hustle off a diverse roster of reasons to sign on again.
Pfc. Kingery Keoni, who will be stationed in Hawaii starting in a few months, said his dad served 20 years, and he looks up to him.
Finney said it was a good job that made him feel like part of a bigger family.
"Today, I feel great. It's kind of a huge celebration for all of us. It makes me feel like I'm a part of something bigger," he said.