On this day, 237 years ago, as a ragtag group of New England militia men were about to face the British army near Boston, John Adams reportedly requested that Congress adopt this group as the foundation of the colonial army. Congress drafted the rules and regulations governing the army, and more importantly, appropriated money to support it. The next day, they appointed George Washington as commander-in-chief. And thus, the U.S. Army was born.
While the story doesn’t have quite as much luster as that of the Marine Corps, (Marines love to point out that their service was born in a bar in Philadelphia), it’s nonetheless a source of pride for soldiers, even though they’ve been busy for the last 11 or so Army birthdays.
How does the Army celebrate its birthday? If you’re the chief of staff, you go on T.V. and thank the American public for their support during a decade of war (that, and talk a little about how sequestration is going to suck). Troops at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio ran to the Alamo (note the wounded warriors who made the run on hand bikes). For units training here at home, there were events that likely included group PT runs (albeit to less picturesque locations than the Alamo) and a whole host of events large and small.
For the troops in Afghanistan, the Army’s birthday is another day of hard work at the beginning of what promises to be yet another long, hot and violent summer. During my years in Baghdad, a rule of thumb was around May, when the temperature blew past 100 degrees fahrenheit and the clouds disappeared until October, that was the start of a rough season you just had to slog through. By the time the Army’s birthday came long well into those scalding days, most troops went about their business and didn’t care very much. On the bigger bases there was a birthday cake in the chow hall, and even on some of the smaller outposts, the cooks rolled out something special to mark the occasion. But for most troops, it was just one more day where you had to do the business as best you could, one day closer to going home.
That’s likely what today will feel like for troops across Afghanistan. Most of them will probably ignore whatever pomp and circumstance is to be had. But if they do get a message on the Army’s birthday, I hope it’s the one Gen. Odierno delivered this morning as he stared down Arianna Huffington’s accusation that the Army advocated behind the scenes for escalation in Afghanistan. “We want them to take over” the Odierno said of the Afghan army. “We want them to secure their own people. [If] they aren’t able to do that, then we’ve wasted 10 years.”
I hope that message is making its way down to the grunts on the ground, that there’s a method to what may seem at times like madness. And I hope that method is being implemented. In the mean time, to those over there, enjoy the cake if there is some to be had, and keep your heads up and butts down.
PHOTOS: Brooke Army Medical Center