Army celebrates 243 years of traditions, transitions, sacrifice

By Dianne Ryder

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Civilians and retired soldiers peppered a sea of active duty and reserve members in Army dress uniforms during the McNamara Headquarters Complex celebration of the Army’s 243rd birthday June 14.

Army Lt. Gen. Darrell Williams, the director of the Defense Logistics Agency, delivered opening remarks in which he welcomed and thanked DLA leaders, heads of the HQC tenant agencies, special guests, event planners and his wife, Myra.

He extended a special welcome to Army veterans visiting from the Armed Forces Retirement Home and the Wounded Warrior Transition Battalion, asking the audience to applaud them.

Williams then introduced keynote speaker, retired Army Lt. Gen. Mitchell Stevenson, whom the DLA director had served with when Stevenson was Army deputy chief of staff for logistics. The DLA director spoke of Stevenson’s “legendary” work ethic and tenacity, adding that no one embodies the spirit of service to the warfighter and military members more than Stevenson.

Stevenson, now a senior account manager for Leidos in Reston, Virginia, first addressed Williams in his remarks.

“If I’d known you were going to say all those nice things about me, I’d have invited my mother,” he quipped.

The retired general relayed the Army’s history when the Second Continental Congress formed the Continental Army on June 14, 1775, as a means for the colonies to fight in the American Revolution.

“As we mark the 243rd year of the United States Army, we also recognize and celebrate another seminal event in our long and storied history: This year is the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I,” he said. “While the Continental Army secured our freedom, it was the doughboys of WWI who secured our place on the world stage.”

Stevenson said the United States became a world leader as a result of what happened in that war.

“Therefore, it’s fitting that the theme for this year’s Army birthday observance is ‘Over There,’ a celebration of Army heroes from World War I to the present day.”

Stevenson explained that both these observances focus attention on Army achievements through the years not just by those who wear the uniform, but also by the civilians who have helped support the mission.

Referring to an Army birthday video shown to the audience, Stevenson quoted President Donald Trump when he awarded the Medal of Honor to retired Army Capt. Gary Rose last year: “Nations are formed out of the strength and patriotism that lives in the hearts of our great heroes.”

“Indeed, the strength and patriotism that formed our nation has been and continues to be carried in the hearts of our Army soldiers and civilians,” Stevenson said.

“From WWI to today, they’ve shown that when it comes to our nation’s freedom and liberty, they embody the Army’s motto: ‘This we’ll defend.’”

Stevenson stressed that an important part of the Army birthday commemoration was highlighting the critical role of the American military in wars, conflicts and defense missions throughout the ages.

“Since the attacks on America Sept. 11, 2001, our next greatest generation has been combating terrorism and other threats around the globe,” he said.

“Throughout our history, we have worked shoulder-to-shoulder alongside our allies strengthening America’s strategic partnerships. And while the threats and weapons have changed, so too has our Army.”

Stevenson noted that soldiers and civilians are the Army’s most valuable commodity, and that more than 180,000 soldiers are currently deployed worldwide.

“They carry on an important and hard-fought legacy, one of service and sacrifice paid for in blood and treasure,” he said. “Each of those soldiers has served with distinction and honor in the cause of freedom. They’ve not only defended our way of life in foreign lands, but have also stood guard here at home.”

“While they never ask to be called anything but ‘soldier,’ or ‘Army civilian,’ to us, they are all heroes,” Stevenson concluded.

Continuing the celebration of Army heroes, soldiers presented “moments in time,” displaying Army uniforms from Revolutionary War to the present day.

Finally, in longstanding tradition, the oldest and youngest soldiers present joined the keynote speaker and DLA director in slicing the cake using a ceremonial sword.

The ceremony closed with the audience singing the Army's official song, accompanied by the United States Army Band, Pershing’s Own.