Soldiers run to celebrate Army’s birthday

Story and photo by Rick Scavetta
U.S. Army Garrison Kaiserslautern

Soldiers at U.S. Army Garrison Kaiserslautern celebrated the Army’s 236th birthday with an early morning motivational run at Rhine Ordnance Barracks.

More than 1,000 Soldiers from the garrison’s tenant units took part in the June 10 event, led by the garrison’s senior noncommissioned officer, Command Sgt. Maj. Richard Jessup.

“It doesn’t get any better than this. The sun is shining and the troops are motivated,” Command Sergeant Major Jessup said. “This is part of a great Army tradition.”

Brig. Gen. Jimmy Jaye Wells, commanding general of the 7th Civil Support Command, motivated the troops in front of the formation. Then came the call: “Double Time!”

Ranks of Soldiers responded with yells. The formation swelled with energy, thousands of sneakers pounded asphalt, hands clapped and NCOs began to sing.
On June 14, 1775, as colonial America faced war with Britain, representatives of the original 13 colonies in the Continental Congress established the Army. The spirit of those first Soldiers were voiced through traditional running cadences, sergeants shouting themselves hoarse as sweating troops echoed their calls.

The formation snaked for nearly a mile through German pines, colored flags marking each unit’s position. At times, Soldiers would burst from the formation, grab their unit’s guidon and sprint circles around their comrades, yelling to motivate others.

Not everyone had seen such a birthday celebration. For Pvt. Jeremy Yavener, a patriot missile operator from Delta Battery, 5th Battalion, 7th Air Defense Artillery, the run marked his first time celebrating an Army birthday.

Fresh from initial Army training, the long run posed little trouble for Private Yavener. His first sergeant and other NCOs told him it would be long, but motivating. Amid the excitement, Private Yavener said he felt proud to be among fellow Soldiers.

“It says a lot about how Soldiers feel about our country and about the Army. There’s a lot of cohesion,” he said. “It’s a happy environment.”

But not everyone on the run was a Soldier. Tech. Sgt. James Hodgman, an NCO from U.S. Air Forces in Europe, was the exception. He pointed out that the Air Force was part of the Army until 1947.

“Running with the Army today gives me an opportunity to honor our history and theirs, as well and to pay tribute to all the Army has done,” said Sergeant Hodgman, whose blue running shorts stood out among ranks of black and gray-clad Soldiers.

Not everyone was there to run. Four Army medics went along in case anyone sustained an injury. One of them, Sgt. Kyle Andrews, from the Kleber Health Clinic, said medics routinely support such functions. Sergeant Andrews, who deployed in 2004 with the 101st Airborne Division to Baghdad, said he’s seen everything from sprained ankles to cardiac arrest on similar runs. Fortunately, he and his
fellow medics were not needed during this birthday run.

“We’re here to support and we’re celebrating the Army birthday too,” he said. “It’s a great thing overall.”

Not everyone who took part will be in Kaiserslautern next year to celebrate. After three years supporting Soldiers in Kaiserslautern, Command Sergeant Major Jessup, who celebrated his first Army birthday run 24 years ago at Fort Bragg, N.C., will depart the garrison soon for his next assignment.

“To celebrate the Army birthday, whether it’s my first or final year here, is a great thing to do,” he said. “It’s us thanking the Army and thanking the troops — a day of recognition for our nation’s finest.”