By Elizabeth M. LorgeJune 13, 2008
WASHINGTON (Army News Service, June 13, 2008) - Top Army leaders celebrated the Army's 233rd birthday a day early with a cake-cutting, future-Soldier swearing-in and re-enlistment ceremony at the Pentagon today.
Secretary of the Army Pete Geren and Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. George W. Casey Jr. were joined by Sergeant Major of the Army Kenneth O. Preston and the oldest and youngest Soldier at the Military District of Washington, Col. Richard Sutton and Pfc. Jared Robinson, respectively, as they sliced through the six-by-three-foot birthday cake with a saber to a chorus of "Happy Birthday."
"Today we celebrate our birthday but we also celebrate the service, the sacrifice and the successes of 14 generations of Americans who have served their Army and this country in a time of war," said Gen. Casey, adding that on Memorial Day at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, "I was struck by how lucky this country is to have ordinary men and women willing to do extraordinary things to make this country what it is and remains today: the greatest nation on earth."
Both he and Secretary Geren made connections between the Army's past, present and future. Gen. Casey compared the nation's first Medal of Honor winner during the Civil War with the most recent recipient, Spc. Ross McGinnis, who posthumously received the honor for throwing himself on a grenade in Iraq in 2006, and the continuing tradition of valor, of which he said Americans can be justifiably proud.
Secretary Geren reminded the audience that America is in a long conflict today, just as it was on June 14, 1775.
"When the Continental Congress decided to create our United States Army we had Soldiers who were part of state militias laying siege to the mightiest army on Earth, laying siege to the British army in the town of Boston. And our Continental Congress met in Philadelphia and on that day proclaimed that they would organize and adopt those brave men in the field," he said.
"And 233 years later, again we are a nation at war, with a special debt to those who've gone before and a special debt to those who serve today, and a special debt to those such as you who are stepping up and saying, 'Here am I. Send me.' Thank you for doing that," Secretary Geren said to the 15 future Soldiers Gen. Casey was about to enlist. He also noted that more than 200,000 Army Civilians, more than 200,000 contractors and more than half a million Army Families are also serving.
Gabriel Dubois, one of the future Soldiers who raised his hand and pledged to defend America today, said the probability that he will soon find himself deployed doesn't faze him. There's no better time to give back than when the country most needs you, he said.
The recent high-school graduate has been promised a civil-affairs position with a special-forces unit after he finishes training and said he looks forward to all the educational and job opportunities the Army can offer.
"Some of my friends have had their doubts but they're not in a position I'm in with the opportunities I'm in right now," Dubois said. "They can't see some of the things that I can see...I believe that with the Army's help I can make myself a better person and better the country itself."
He added that his father, a former Navy Seal, was also a big influence.
"He's very supportive. He said he wasn't going to pressure me into joining but that it was the best decision he ever made in his life. He very strongly encouraged it. I see what kind of a man he became and I would like to follow in his footsteps," Dubois said.
On hand to serve as examples to the new recruits were 20 Soldiers with over 157 years of service who re-enlisted today. Many, like Staff Sgt. Mark Hood, who first enlisted in 1992, have deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan. He re-enlisted with his wife, Sgt. 1st Class Margaret Hood, who first joined the Army in 1997.
They plan to remain in the Army "indefinitely" - Staff Sgt. Hood said he really doesn't even think of it as re-enlisting, just a small detail he has to take care of to continue his career - and advise the Army's newest Soldiers to listen to their leaders.
"Your leaders will train you well. The Army will train you well. It's the same successful career. It's what you make of it. Everything you get that you can take from the Army, is what you earn. It's a great career field to be in," said Staff Sgt. Hood.
He added that he's trying to earn his rights and freedoms as an American, while his wife said it's important to her that her children understand those rights and where they come from, and that she is doing something to contribute to them.