Many ways to celebrate birthday as Army turns 242 years strong

Many ways to celebrate birthday as Army turns 242 years strong

U.S. Army Soldiers stand at the position of attention during an Army ceremony marking its birthday birthday at the Pentagon, Arlington, Virginia in 2016. The four Soldiers wore different uniforms that the Army has issued to Soldiers in the past and present. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Hailey D. Stuart)

By Rindi White

The United States Army, begun 242 years ago as a group of 26 company regiments drawn from colonial militias, banded together for common defense against the British in the Revolutionary War.

The historic Battles of Lexington and Concord pre-date the army; militias fought those battles. But when it was clear war was at hand, the Continental Congress created the Continental Army, led by Maj. Gen. George Washington. The measure passed on June 14, 1775. Historians estimate between 14,000 and 16,000 men served at the time.

But the Continental Army wasn’t a standing army — it was created for a purpose and remained relatively small, with soldiers enlisting only for a year at a time. But lack of experience and dependence on erratic state militias had a cost. The Continental Army was reorganized and reapproved four times. During one reorganization, enlistment was extended to three years. Following the ratification of the Declaration of Independence, country leaders disbanded the army and relied on state militia to defend its borders, with the exception of two regiments, one to guard the western border and a second to guard the West Point arsenal.

Ongoing conflicts on the nation’s western border with Native Americans led Congress to create the Legion of the United States, the U.S.’s first standing, trained army.

Today’s Army may have a similar mission, but the approach is markedly different. About 1.1 million active-duty and reserve soldiers are part of the standing army, with 158 Army installations around the world. The Army owns about 15 million acres in the U.S. — enough to make it the nation’s 42nd largest state if it were contiguous.


How best to celebrate 242 years defending our nation? A birthday run, perhaps, followed by a celebratory dinner with music and dancing, of course!

Across the nation, communities are planning Army birthday celebrations. The West Point Band will honor the Army and the nation in West Point, New York, with “March Along, Sing our Song” at the historic grounds of the U.S. Military Academy, followed by a streamer ceremony and cake-cutting.

The Army Heritage Center Foundation will host Central Pennsylvania’s fifth annual Army Birthday Dinner at the U.S. Army Heritage and Education Center, beginning at 6 p.m. The dinner will include a special program to commemorate 50 years of the U.S. Army Military History Institute.

In Washington, D.C., a host of activities are planned, from a wreath-laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia, to a U.S. Army Concert Band and Army Voices presentation of a patriotic evening of music celebrating the Army’s birthday, to a ball at the Washington Hilton with entertainment by the U.S. Army Field Band.

Throughout April, May and half of June, the American Forces Network has been showing a series of highlights of World War I Army soldiers and aviators, under the theme “Over There” to highlight the branch of service’s 242 years protecting our nation.

The list of events happening across the nation to commemorate the impact the Army has had on American lives and to celebrate its formation is long. Check your local installation to find out more about activities happening near you. 

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