- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Jimmie Tate, 17, stood outside the Pentagon yesterday with 26 others to make one of the most serious commitments he will probably make in his life: joining the military.

In his black “Army of One” T-shirt and his mother and fiancee looking on, Jimmie, a recent high school graduate from Orange, Va., raised his right hand, and, at an Army general’s cue, repeated the oath:

“I do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic. …”

Jimmie was one of 27 future soldiers sworn in at a ceremony commemorating the U.S. Army’s 230th birthday yesterday, on Flag Day.

“It’s cool to be one of them,” said Jimmie, who added there’s been an Army officer in each generation of his family.

His mother, Lora Dodson, said when Jimmie told her of his decision to join the Army “it broke my heart.”

“But at the same time [I’m] very proud,” she said.

The ceremony — themed “Call to Duty” — commemorates the millions of soldiers who vowed to protect the nation since 1775 when the first Army was formed and the more than 488,000 men and women on active duty in the Army today.

“It’s the Army celebrating its heritage and remembering soldiers, past and present,” said Laura DeFrancisco, with Army public affairs. “We have to keep reminding the public that the Army is here, what we do, what’s our mission and what’s our purpose.”

Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld, Secretary of the Army Francis J. Harvey, Gen. Peter J. Schoomaker, Army chief of staff, and Sergeant Major of the Army Kenneth O. Preston spoke to more than 200 attendees who tried to keep cool in the nearly 90-degree heat early yesterday morning on a parade field at the Pentagon.

“The Army’s story is America’s story, where men and women are judged … by merit,” Mr. Rumsfeld said. “Sometimes things only get better with age and with 230 years … the Army is only getting more flexible [and] more innovative.”

Officials also remembered the troops stationed in the Middle East.

“On a day as warm as it is today, I remember it’s warmer in Iraq and Afghanistan,” Gen. Schoomaker said.

Earlier in the morning, soldiers and military officials placed a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns during a 10-minute solemn ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery.

Row upon row of soldiers stood tall on either side of the tomb, with the Memorial Amphitheater looming before them. The only sounds spectators heard were birds chirping and an occasional airplane flying overhead.

The Army Band played the national anthem before officials placed the wreath at the tomb.

Pentagon officials and a handful of spectators watched as Gen. Schoomaker, Sgt. Maj. Preston and Mr. Harvey placed the wreath on an easel in front of the white marble tomb, flanked by soldiers.

“The Tomb of the Unknowns is symbolic of all of the soldiers who have given their lives for this country,” said Mark Heeter, a public affairs specialist for the Army. “The wreath-laying is a way for leadership to thank all of those who have answered the call to duty.”

Mr. Heeter said the call to duty extends beyond the soldiers to their support staff, families and loved ones.

“It’s the duty of supporting those who serve also,” he said.

Marion and Robert Ponton, whose family boasts four generations of military service, traveled to the Pentagon from Delaware yesterday because they said they “[felt] like we’re very much a part of” the birthday celebration.

“It’s good for the morale of everybody — those in uniform, the public, us,” said Mr. Ponton, who is retired from the now-defunct Naval Air Station Anacostia. “Especially for today — it’s Flag Day — it makes it that much more significant.”

Lt. Col. Roger Cotton, a 19-year veteran who works in the Pentagon on the Army staff, said being a part of the Desert Shield and Desert Storm operations, the Cold War and the global war on terrorism has made him feel like he’s part of something “large” and “noble.”

“It’s a proud day to be an American soldier,” he said.

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