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Friday, June 15, 2007

Leaders, Wounded Warriors Celebrate Army Birthday at WRAMC

by Bernard S. Little
Army News Service

WASHINGTON - Walter Reed Army Medical Center joined installations and commands worldwide this week in celebrating the Army's 232nd birthday with a cake-cutting ceremony Tuesday in the hospital's Heaton Pavilion.

Acting Secretary of the Army Pete Geren, acting U.S. Army Surgeon Gen. Maj. Gen. Gale Pollock and Sgt. Maj. Of the Army Kenneth O. Preston attended the celebration honoring those who answered the "Call to Duty - Boots on the Ground - Army Strong," this year's Army birthday theme.

Maj. Gen. Eric B. Schoomaker, commanding general of the North Atlantic Regional Medical Command and WRAMC, said medics have been a part of the Army for almost its entire existence, pointing out that about a month after the Continental Congress established an Army to defend the colonies, a medical service was created for care for the 20,000-member Continental Army.

"We've had our boots on the ground as Soldiers almost since our inception as a defender of America's freedoms," Maj. Gen. Schoomaker said. "It's also fitting to celebrate at the place where our first mission is to put warriors back on their feet to return to the fighting force and resume their lives."

Walter Reed has treated nearly 6,000 patients from Operation Iraqi Freedom since the war began. More than 2,000 of those troops were injured in battle. Walter Reed has also treated nearly 550 patients from Operation Enduring Freedom, and more than 180 of those troops were injured in battle.

Maj. Gen. Schoomaker spoke of attending the funeral last year of Cpl. Angelo Vaccaro, a medic killed while serving with the 10th Mountain Division in Afghanistan. "Only days after a major enemy encounter, during which he performed courageously saving many lives, Soldiers from his unit once again came under major enemy fire suffering several casualties." Cpl. Vaccaro volunteered to evacuate the injured while the battle continued, and was killed by enemy fire.

"His sacrifice and call to duty will not be forgotten," Maj. Gen. Schoomaker said of Cpl. Vaccaro.

Walter Reed's Warrior Transition Brigade headquarters will be named after Cpl. Vaccaro later this year.

SMA Preston agreed that birthdays provide a special time to reflect. "As we reflect back on the Army's history we see our nation's history. There are 178 streamers on the Army flag. Each one represents critical events in the history of our Army, nation and world. These critical events represent sacrifices by Soldiers. They not only sacrificed themselves, but they were there to save the day," he said.

The SMA spoke of Sgt. Maj. Brent Jorgensen, who was injured in Iraq but recovered and redeployed. He was injured again when the vehicle he was riding in was hit by two rocket-propelled grenades. Then a first sergeant, he suffered a severe head injury, wounded right knee and left leg amputation at the knee. His driver was killed.

During Sgt. Maj. Jorgensen's recovery, he was selected for promotion to sergeant major and to attend the Sergeants Major Academy. "Two weeks ago, I handed him his diploma as he walked across the stage. He was the first-ever amputee to attend the academy and graduate. He will soon be the sergeant major for the Army's Wounded Warrior Program and report to Walter Reed in July.

"These are incredible stories of the spirit of the American Soldier and a testament to the efforts of Army health-care professionals," SMA Preston said.

Sec. Geren said much as changed since the Army's birth on June 14, 1775, including technology, uniforms and medicine. "But one thing has not changed - the centerpiece of the Army and our nation's defense - the Soldier."

Photo - Installations and commands worldwide are celebrating the Army's 232nd birthday this week. Shown here is the sword presented to Sgt. Maj. of the Army Kenneth O. Preston to cut a cake at a ceremony at the U.S. Senate June 12. Photo by Staff Sgt. Christina M. O'Connell.

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