The United States Army celebrated its 243rd birthday on June 14, founded on that date in 1775. Locally, the event was celebrated at the Vinton War Memorial along with Flag Day and a salute to new recruits and their families.
The recruitment ceremony recognized 42 Future Soldiers who took their Oath of Enlistment before family, friends, and fellow soldiers. About 65 young men and women from the Roanoke Valley have signed up with recruiters to join the Army, but 42 were able to attend the swearing-in ceremony.
Two of the new soldiers are recent graduates of William Byrd High School— Matthew Tench and Casey Robinson. Tench will be reporting for duty on July 24 at Fort Benning, Ga.; Robinson on July 10 at Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri.
The Stonewall Jackson Chapter of the Association of the United States Army (AUSA), and the United States Army Recruiting Command from Fort Knox hosted the event.
The 29th Division Virginia Army National Guard band performed prior to and during the ceremony.
Col. John Miller, president of the AUSA chapter, welcomed guests as the master of ceremonies and thanked Vinton for its warm welcome. He introduced Vinton Mayor Brad Grose, who served in the Army during the Vietnam era.
The mayor pointed out how much the Town of Vinton reveres members of the armed services and veterans, demonstrated by the historic Vinton War Memorial which was built in 1948 to honor World War II veterans and the Vinton-Roanoke County “High Ground” Veterans’ Monument erected on the grounds of the War Memorial in 2011 to recognize veterans of all wars and active duty personnel. The High Ground monument is especially notable in that it was built by a citizens group, not the government.
Grose told the new recruits that he was envious of their youth, energy, and the new journey they are undertaking. He then talked about that special person they are about to meet who will have a huge impact on their lives— their drill instructor. He remembered his own drill instructor who had a “huge and positive impact on my life and taught me many things about being a soldier, a patriot, a leader, and a man.” He concluded with a formal salute to the recruits saying, “It is easier to salute someone you admire and respect.”
Col. Miller discussed the origins and symbolism of Flag Day and the history of the US Army and then introduced LTC Travis McCrackine, Battalion Commander, United States Army Recruiting Command (USAREC), who has served in the Army for 27 years. He praised the new soldiers for their decision to enlist and for their commitment. He told the group that recruiting soldiers is not an easy task as 79 percent of the population 17-24 years of age are not qualified to serve in the military. He reassured parents present that the recruits would be well taken care of and receive support from those who would also “shape and mold them.”
Guest speaker Maj. Gen. Jeff Snow, Commanding General of the USAREC, Fort Knox, who will be retiring soon, addressed his remarks to the new soldiers, saying that like Mayor Grose, most soldiers “come in one way” “and “leave better than when you came in,” whether after one tour of duty or a career of service. Most go back into the community after their enlistment is up to make a difference with a sense of duty that stays with them.
Snow said that the Vinton War Memorial was a “fitting location” for the ceremony, “seeing the future and the past right in front of you.”
Snow was commissioned as a Lieutenant of Infantry in 1983 after graduation from the United States Military Academy. His career has spanned over 35 years. He has served in a variety of command and staff assignments in the United States, Germany, Kosovo, Kuwait, and Iraq.
“Seeing you gives me great pride and great hope,” said Snow. “It shows me that the Army’s future is bright as you insure we preserve our freedom and way of life. You are the best our country has to offer.”
He reminded those present that only 1 percent of the population in the United States serves in the military. He recalled that he signed up for the Army when he was 17 years old— to play hockey at West Point and save his family some money on his college tuition. At the time, he believed he would serve his five years and leave. But “something happened— I fell in love with the Army and the people I served alongside. I wouldn’t make a different choice today. I treasure each day I got to wear the uniform; I love being a soldier.”
He offered encouragement to families who are sending off their sons and daughters to serve the nation, telling them their support would be a huge motivation. They “will come back sought after for their leadership, selfless service, and discipline.”
Gen. Snow administered the Oath of Enlistment to the recruits and followed up by shaking hands with each and asking about their assignments in the Army.
Victoria Leslie, treasurer of the AUSA Stonewall Jackson Chapter, presented donations of $1,000 to Rebecca Stackhouse, Medical Center Director at the Salem VA Medical Center, and to Bill Van Thiel, administrator at the Virginia Veterans Care Center. Van Thiel thanked the AUSA for “letting vets know they are not forgotten.”
Col. Roger Talmadge (USA Ret.) accepted 20 Kroger gift cards worth $50 each from the AUSA chapter to be distributed to families served by the local Military Family Support Center.
The event concluded with the traditional saber cake-cutting by the senior soldier (Maj. Gen. Snow) and the youngest soldier present— Blake Markvart, who will be graduating early from Lord Botetourt High School in December.
Markvart will be joining the Concurrent Admissions program designed exclusively for soldiers in the Active and Reserve components of the US Army. It originated in the late 1980s as a partnership between the United States Army Recruiting Command, over 2,000 participating colleges, and the Service Member Opportunity College. The program is designed to forge a partnership between a future soldier and a college at the time of enlistment with three major goals: to increase the number of enlistments of students currently enrolled in college into the Army and Army Reserves; to increase the number of soldiers, veterans, and reservists enrolled in college and using GI Bill benefits; and to establish a partnership between recruiters, colleges, and high schools.
Markvart plans concurrent admission to the US Army Reserves and Old Dominion University where he will major in biology. He is 17 years old, a Life Scout on his way to the rank of Eagle Scout, and a track and field athlete. He said that he chose to join the Army because of the education benefits.
Soldiers, present and future, joined together to sing “The Army Song,” followed by a meal catered by Teresa Tyree and the Burnt Chimney Fire Department. Chaplain Evan Spencer from the Salem VA Medical Center gave the invocation, the blessing, and the benediction.