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CITIZEN JOURNALISM: Army salutes soldiers on its 234th birthday

- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 25, 2009

The U.S. Army, one of America's oldest institutions, celebrated its 234th birthday on June 14. Throughout the month, Army leaders have been commemorating the birthday with a series of events highlighting the many contributions the Army has made to providing security and defending freedom since 1775.

On June 12, a cake-cutting ceremony was held at the Pentagon Courtyard.

"We started prepping in February," said Lt. Col. Nathan Banks, lead public-affairs officer. "You can plan a party, but you can't predict the weather. It's a very exciting week, very moving and touching."

The celebration started at 11 a.m. with pre-ceremony exhibits and entertainment. The U.S. Army Band played popular songs. Guests viewed an exhibit of vintage vehicles presented by the Military Vehicle Preservation Association. The exhibit commemorated the 90th anniversary of the Army's first transcontinental convoy expedition, along the Lincoln Highway.

Col. Gaston Barmore, owner of a 1942 WC-56 command car that was on display, said he had been preparing to be at the Pentagon for weeks to celebrate the Army's birthday. "It's quite a privilege," he said. His vehicle was used initially for front-line reconnaissance and then primarily for transporting high-ranking military officials. Gen. George S. Patton Jr. used this model command car in his race across France during World War II. Other cars included in the display were a Korean War Jeep, Vietnam-era Jeep, World War II motorcycle, Dodge staff car and Ford sedan staff car.

The Army Band performed the national anthem at 11:30 a.m. to begin the cake-cutting ceremony. Maj. Gen. Douglas L. Carver, the Army's chief of chaplains, delivered an invocation. Opening remarks were made by Army Chief of Staff Gen. George W. Casey Jr. and Secretary of the Army Pete Geren.

Next, Deputy Secretary of Defense William J. Lynn III took the stage as guest speaker. "As we celebrate the Army's 234th birthday, we are really celebrating you," he said.

Sgt. Maj. Kenneth O. Preston then inducted new members into the Army's Noncommissioned Officer Corps (NCO); Mr. Geren established 2009 as the Year of the NCO. The District's oldest and youngest soldiers participated in the induction.

Senior leaders gathered to cut the massive Army birthday cake. Guests joined the band in singing as slices of cake were distributed; many wandered across the courtyard.

While guests, veterans and senior leaders mingled and ate, Sgt. 1st Class Sean Bennett, a soldier from Fort Campbell, Ky., and Spc. Daniel Jens, a soldier from Fort Hood, Texas, entertained the crowd. Both are singer-songwriters. Sgt. Bennett has been the opening act for artists including Billy Ray Cyrus and Miley Cyrus. He also has competed on NBC's country-music talent show "Nashville Star."

"My songs are really based off what I see other people in the military are struggling with," Sgt. Bennett said.

Spc. Jens returned last year from a 15-month deployment to Iraq and months later competed on NBC's variety talent show "America's Got Talent," where he placed 11th. He won the 10-week "Blackjack Idol" competition, held by Blackjack, the 1st Cavalry Division's 2nd Brigade. He was a singer and guitar player for many years until he joined the Army at 32 and temporarily put his music career on hold.

"I was probably in the crib singing," Spc. Jens said. "I've been singing for as long as I can remember."

When he arrived in Iraq, he had the opportunity to play at prayer services and breakfasts. He said he recently has found his true passion in writing and singing Christian music.

Other events celebrating the Army's birthday included the Army Birthday Ball on June 13 at the Hilton Washington hotel; a wreath-laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknowns on June 14 at Arlington National Cemetery; and a Twilight Tattoo ceremony in Fort Myer's Whipple Field on June 17. Events for children have included book readings at the Fort Myer and Fort Belvoir Child Development Centers.

Joanna Brenner is a recent graduate of James Madison University and the former co-executive editor of Curio, an annual magazine about Harrisonburg, Va., and surrounding communities.