REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala.--Expressing his pride in leading a patriotic state, Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley steered the spotlight at a June 15 Army birthday celebration to the real reason the Huntsville and Tennessee Valley community honors the military during its annual Armed Forces Celebration Week.

He steered that spotlight to the Soldier.

“America would not be free if not for Soldiers,” he said in his opening comments. “We need to always remember that … For 236 years, our Army has held the torch of freedom high and gallantly.”

The governor, himself a Vietnam-era Air Force veteran, saw what that torch of freedom can mean even to Alabama citizens during his visits across the state following the April 27 tornadoes.

“On the first day after April 27, I activated my National Guard and the calming influence that the guardsmen had all over this state is immeasurable,” he said. “Anytime I saw a Soldier, I knew things were under control.”

Bentley shared his appreciation for the military during the Salute Reception and Army Birthday Celebration hosted by the Redstone-Huntsville Chapter of the U.S. Army at the Von Braun Center’s North Hall. The event included an official 236th Army birthday cake cutting and music by the Army Materiel Command Band.
Bentley also expressed his appreciation specifically for Redstone Arsenal.
“As the governor of this great state, I want to tell you again how much I appreciate what Redstone Arsenal means to us here in Alabama, not only to all the jobs that it creates, but how it protects our great nation,” he said.

His appreciation also extended to the newest member of Redstone Arsenal " the Army Materiel Command, which, just a few hours earlier in the day, had celebrated its touchdown ceremony at its new headquarters at Redstone.

“I’ve been hearing about this now for quite a while,” he said. “So it’s a pleasure for me to welcome the Army Materiel Command and especially our new general, General (Ann) Dunwoody. ... We are so excited and so happy that you are here with us.”
Bentley signed and presented a proclamation to Dunwoody, in recognition of AMC's move to Redstone and Alabama.
“I couldn't be more proud and honored to commemorate the 236th birthday of our Army as one of the newest residents here in Alabama,” Dunwoody said, adding that the framed proclamation would hang in AMC headquarters.

“Thank you for all you’ve done to make our AMC team so welcome here. From the beginning, you’ve treated us like part of the family. I have lived in some wonderful communities in the world. But there’s something truly special about this one.”

Dunwoody, who moved to Redstone in March, was amazed by the outpouring of support the community extended to families affected by the April 27 tornadoes.

“You rolled up your sleeves and you did what was most important, and that was to comfort families and care for those in need,” she said.

“You know this is an amazing community. Now, the rest of the country knows it, too.”

Dunwoody saw more of that support during the salute reception when a $65,000 check was presented to Bentley for the Governor’s Emergency Relief Fund.

Prior to the April 27 tornadoes that hit North Alabama, the Armed Forces Celebration Week committee had planned a black-tie gala dinner event for the evening of June 15. But the destruction left by the tornadoes caused the committee to rethink those plans, choosing to scale back to a reception event with any money saved donated to the governor’s fund for use in the long-term recovery of the state and victims of the tornadoes “in the hope that we can make a difference,” said Steve Taylor, chapter president of the Redstone-Huntsville AUSA.

“In light of the tremendous challenges faced by our state, we want to help Alabama. The tornado affected so many lives,” Taylor said. “We want to honor Soldiers, and honor the strength and determination of Alabama. This very special state was tested and emerged stronger and more unified than ever.”

Bentley said the donation will be added to funds that have been collected throughout the state to assist tornado-affected families.

“This will fill in the gaps where FEMA and EMA dollars can’t be used,” Bentley told the reception audience. “The people of Alabama thank you.”

In her comments, Dunwoody also noted that this year is the 10th anniversary of the Army at war. She expressed her admiration for the Soldiers and Soldier families that have sacrificed so much during those years.

“These Soldiers are risking their lives, and their families are enduring long separations, so that our nation can provide hope in countries where hope could not exist, and offer opportunities for those who had none,” Dunwoody said.

“So let's keep them in our thoughts and prayers, and let’s never forget that for 236 years, Soldiers have been willing to step forward and defend our nation. And that this is the land of the free because we are still the home of the brave.”

The governor’s comments included a pledge to “honor the families of any fallen Soldier as long as I’m governor of this state. Unfortunately, I am having to do it too often … I want to honor the Soldiers who give their lives for this great nation of ours.”

He was referring to the June 4 death of Cpl. Christopher Roger Bell of Red Bay, who was among four Soldiers killed by an improvised explosive device in Afghanistan.