The origin of today’s U.S. Army began 236 years ago, when 10 units of riflemen, many of them farmers, merchants and tradesmen, formed the Continental Army on June 14, 1775. Their purpose then was to win independence from Britain for America’s 13 colonies.
Today, the Army is a volunteer force of highly trained professionals, both men and women, ready to deploy anywhere in the world. Its proud history from the Revolutionary War to the War on Terror was recounted Tuesday during a birthday celebration at Fort Stewart’s Marne Garden.
3rd Infantry Division Commander Maj. Gen. Robert Abrams, Command Sgt. Maj. Edd Watson and the oldest and youngest 3rd ID soldiers, Warrant Officer John Alfsen, 58, and Pvt. Abelardo Gonzalez, 18, cut the Army’s birthday cake with a saber after Watson ceremoniously had tied 181 campaign streamers to the division’s flag.
“(Today is) a celebration of our history, heritage and people,” Abrams said. The general said the Army’s most valuable resource is its soldiers, and he emphasized soldiers always have drawn strength from their families.
Abrams recognized the sacrifice made by veterans, singling out retired Army Staff Sgt. Clinton “Hank” Henry. Henry, 84, of Hinesville, fought in three wars and earned a Purple Heart for wounds he received in the Korean War. The general told his active-duty troops they are “writing a new chapter of Army history.”
Alfsen, a Blackhawk pilot with Alpha Company, 2/3rd Aviation out of Hunter Army Airfield, said he initially joined the Army to “get away from the local area and see the world.”
He joined the Army in January 1972, did a stint in the Army National Guard, returned to the Army and graduated from flight school in 1984. The helicopter pilot has been sent to Korea, Germany “and everywhere in between,” he said. Alfsen arrived at Hunter last December after spending a year “between Egypt and Israel” among multi-national forces. The seasoned soldier added the Israelis treated U.S. military members well.
“Defending the Constitution” by serving in the Army “means more as you get older,” Alfsen said. “We’re able to be someone who’s willing to go do the things that need to be done.”
The warrant officer said he feels “a connection” to the young people coming into the Army. Alfsen advises young soldiers to always seek opportunities and to realize that where they begin their career in the Army is not where they’ll stay.
Gonzalez, who celebrated his 18th birthday April 26, said he wanted to join the Army “since I was a kid.” He is assigned to the 2nd Heavy Brigade Combat Team and came to Fort Stewart last October.
The polite young soldier said he plans to pursue a college education while in the service and intends to make a career of the military.
“(It’s) a stable job that will always be there,” Gonzalez said.
He added that experienced soldiers freely have shared their knowledge with younger soldiers like him. They’ve told him to “keep working hard — it will pay off.”