On June 14, the United States Army will hold a birthday celebration. As with any person, movement or in the Army’s case, armed service, there will be cake, balloons, hats, (or make that ACU caps) and birthday songs. But the Army celebration goes a lot deeper than just turning the page on another year of existence.

You see, the Army’s roots trace back to 1775, when Gen. George Washington commanded the Continental Army, which was comprised of troops from 13 colonies who were organized to fight against the mighty redcoats of Great Britain.

As we celebrate the Army’s 237th year, it’s almost mandatory that we celebrate the heroes who have etched their marks into the Army’s ranks and U.S. history forever.

We must honor men like Washington, who is known as the Father of the United States. While there were many men of that era who were founding fathers of our great country, Washington is often considered the most important. He served as general of the Army, which on June 14, 1775, was formed to coordinate the military efforts of the 13 colonies. Before the Continental Army was formed, the colonies relied on militias from each state to fight the war. Washington was instrumental in organizing the Army and implementing his vision for a great and powerful nation.

There are also modern heroes, such as Sgt. 1st Class Paul R. Smith, who was assigned to the 11th Engineer Battalion, 3rd Infantry Division at Fort Stewart, Ga. Smith lost his life during operations in Iraq. His Medal of Honor citation read: “Sergeant First Class Paul R. Smith distinguished himself by acts of gallantry and intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty in action with an armed enemy near Baghdad International Airport, Baghdad, Iraq on 4 April 2003.

On that day, Sergeant First Class Smith was engaged in the construction of a prisoner of war holding area when his Task Force was violently attacked by a company-sized enemy force. Realizing the vulnerability of over 100 fellow Soldiers, Sergeant First Class Smith quickly organized a hasty defense consisting of two platoons of Soldiers, one Bradley fighting vehicle and three armored personnel carriers. As the fight developed, Sergeant First Class Smith braved hostile enemy fire to personally engage the enemy with hand grenades and anti-tank weapons, and organized the evacuation of three wounded Soldiers from an armored personnel carrier struck by a rocket propelled grenade and a 60mm mortar round. Fearing the enemy would overrun their defenses, Sergeant First Class Smith moved under withering enemy fire to man a .50 caliber machine gun mounted on a damaged armored personnel carrier. In total disregard for his own life, he maintained his exposed position in order to engage the attacking enemy force. During this action, he was mortally wounded. His courageous actions helped defeat the enemy attack, and resulted in as many as 50 enemy soldiers killed, while allowing the safe withdrawal of numerous wounded Soldiers.”

Actions by Smith and men such as Master Sgt. Gary Gordon and Sgt. 1st Class Randall Shughart, are the reason America is the country that it is today. Gordon and Shughart, both assigned the 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment-Delta at Fort Bragg, gave their lives assisting a downed U. S. helicopter pilot during operations in Mogadishu, Somalia. Their story was the inspiration for the movie, “Black Hawk Down.”

Of course there are other heroes, living and deceased and this commentary may sound more like a Memorial Day tribute than one that reflects on the Army’s birthday. But what makes the U.S. Army the world’s finest fighting force is the fact that it encompasses individuals like those mentioned above. While men like Smith, Shughart and Gordon do not come a dime-a-dozen, the Army’s ranks are filled with special individuals who would do no less, if called upon.

To the men and women of the U.S. Army, I salute you and to the Army as a service, I say, Happy Birthday You are truly the greatest!

Fort Bragg events

June 8 — Army Birthday 10-Miler (FMWR Event)

June 12 — Army Birthday Cake Competition at the VA Hospital in Fayetteville at 2 p.m.

June 13 — Army birthday cake cutting ceremonies at the MiniMall, Post Exchanges and commissaries (various times)

June 14 — Fort Bragg Army Birthday Run (spectators encouraged to cheer from Hedrick Stadium)