The ceremony is but one of many mass re-enlistments occurring to commemorate the 35th anniversary of the all-volunteer U.S. Military forces which began on July 1, 1973, which was when the draft ended.
In what is described as the largest re-enlistment ceremony in the history of the American military, General David Petraeus swore over 1,200 men and women, On July 4, into their next term of service, at Camp Victory in Iraq.
Today, July 4, 2008, was but one of those mass re-enlistments going on all over.
One observer described the event, saying that service members from over two dozen allies stood in attendance for the ceremony.
Beneath a large American flag which dwarfed even the enormous chandelier that Saddam Hussein had built for the Al Faw Palace, members of all services, representing all 50 states took the oath administered by Gen. David Petraeus, Commander of Multi-National Forces Iraq.
General Petraeus' remarks during the mass re-enlistment ceremony included a statement in which he said, "For no bonus, no matter the size, can adequately compensate you for the contribution each of you makes as a custodian of our nation’s defenses.”
Last year, 588 Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, and Marines participated in the ceremony, with General Petraeus and John McCain presiding over it.
This year, over double that amount of men and women, flown in from all parts of Iraq to participate, took their oath again for another term,
For at least one of those men, this was his fourth re-enlistment.
Army Staff Sgt. Dimas Estrada, who comes from a long line of veterans, and who was planning to re-enlist anyway when he got back to the states, believed it was significant to re-enlist while he was in Iraq.
Estrada has already served his country for 12 years and he an air and missile defense operations sergeant for Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 10th Mountain Division.
Another one of those participating in today's event was Army Spc. Jeremy Giddings, of Watertown, N.Y.
“I’ve been considering re-enlisting for at least the past year,” said Giddings, a member of a battalion security detail for Headquarters and Support Company, Division Special Troops Battalion. “I realized I wanted to stay in and make a career out of it. Besides, you can’t beat the benefits,” he said with a smile.
Those benefits come with the possibility of deploying again, but Giddings said that had no effect on his decision.
“I expect at least two or three more after this,” he calmly said.
Each of these men and women who have re-enlisted have their own story, their own families and their own reasons for re-enlisting.
After the ceremony these troops were treated to 3,000 deep dish pizzas from Lou Malnati’s Restaurant, where they were flown to Iraq via New York, Belgium and Bahrain, at a cost of an estimated $100,000. The majority of the money coming from donations from the restaurant chain and DHL Express.
The idea for this came from a conversation between retired Master Sgt. Mark Evans and his son, while they were eating pizza and watching news about the war on television. Evans says, "He asked me about the food over there, and I told him, ‘They do their best, but it’s not like home cooking. They don’t have pizza like this there.’
"Then he asked if we could get some over there."
Over the next month Evans contacted local eateries, shipping companies and military officials in Iraq, coordinating all the details needed to get Chicago’s signature dish delivered on the other side of the world.
Originally, Evans said, he hoped for about 300 pizzas to be sent overseas, but as donations poured in to his Pizzas 4 Patriots charity the plans quickly expanded.
Evans said Malnati’s immediately volunteered to help, donating most of their stock for the popular "Taste of Chicago" event this weekend for the effort. DHL global service manager Ethan Mattern called the delivery a tremendous challenge "but a fantastic idea" that the company was happy to participate in.
This ceremony comes following a new Gallup survey which showed that 62 percent of Americans believe that serving in the U.S. Military shows a "great amount" of patriotism with 25 percent believing it shows a "moderate amount", leaving 13 percent thinking "not much" or "not at all" or not answering.
The majority of Americans understand the the patriotic nature of the duties these men have chosen to re-enlist to perform.
Bob Krumm, the observer at Camp Victory today writes, "It was as humbling an experience as I have ever witnessed. On this 4th of July, while you celebrate around grills and coolers all across America, keep in mind the 1,215 who allow us that privilege."
Let me add, Thank you to each and every member of the Military that has served, is serving and has re-enlisted to serve again.
You are appreciated.
(Listing this will Stop the ACLU's Happy Independence Day Open Thread)