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Army marks 229th birthday with celebrations

By Ed Brock

The Army is a big part of Charlene Anderson's life.

As the administrative assistant to Georgia's Adjutant Gen. David Poythress, Anderson of Stockbridge says the Army's more than two centuries of service makes it a big part of the lives of every American.

"I think they're doing a fantastic job in fighting for the freedom of the Iraqi people," Anderson said. "All Americans should be proud of our men and women in uniform."

Anderson was at the U.S. Army Soldier Show Monday night at the Clayton County Schools Performing Arts Center, and it just happened to be the Army's 229th birthday.

Celebration of the Army birthday began on June 5 with the annual "Hooah Race" that included 10K and 5K runs from points in East Point and College Park to Army Garrison Fort McPherson in Atlanta near East Point.

Staff Sgt. Charles Robitaille, 26, of Stockbridge won the male division of the 10K run, said Maj. Sue Bozgoz with the Army Reserve Command at Fort McPherson.

On Monday in Centennial Park in Atlanta the Army Ground Forces Band entertained a crowd of more than 400 people who turned out for the first official celebration hosted by the First United States Army headquartered in Atlanta. Those attending the party were treated to birthday cake, HUMMV mobile exhibits, the Army's Top Fuel Dragster from Indianapolis and soldiers in historical period uniforms.

On Friday another, similar celebration will be held at Fort McPherson. Starting at 10 a.m. some of the same re-enactors will be out on Hedekin Field with vintage vehicles and equipment for a second celebration.

Because the re-enactors have to take a day off work to participate the fort had to have a separate celebration from the First Army, Fort McPherson spokesman Bob Bolia said.

"There's no way we can do it all on the same day," Bolia said.

The celebration on Friday is free and open to the public. Those attending must have photo identification, proof of insurance and registration for the vehicle in which they are riding. A smaller re-enactment will be held at Fort McPherson's sub-facility, Fort Gillem, in Forest Park at 9:30 a.m. Saturday.

This Army birthday will be a special event on more than one level for the forts' commander, Col. Angela Manos, who took command of the forts one year ago on June 25.

"It's really exciting," Manos said. "What a great way to celebrate it."

Manos was also at the Soldier Show Monday night, showing special pride that one of her own, Pfc. Kevin Allen, who is a military police officer at Fort McPherson, was set to perform in the show.

Performers in the show are all soldiers who send in audition tapes to become part of the show that tours the world every year.

The Fox television show "American Idol" has nothing on the Army Soldier Show, Manos said.

"These soldiers have been doing this since 1918," Manos said.

How many more Army birthdays will be celebrated at Fort McPherson and Fort Gillem in Forest Park remains to be seen. Like military installations around the globe, the forts are waiting for the release of the Department of Defense's Base Realignment and Closure list.

Currently the BRAC list remains in the Joint Services Committee and it's not expected to emerge from there until after November and the national election, said Fred Bryant, spokesman for the Georgia Military Affairs Coordinating Committee.

Bryant is also a member of the Save Forts McPherson/Gillem Foundation Inc., an organization dedicated to keeping the forts off the BRAC list.

More than likely information on the list will not be made public until 2005, Bryant said. Congress and the president must approve the list before it becomes official, a process that can take some time.

Currently the foundation is drumming up support in the community and finding ways to demonstrate the value of the forts.

"We're undertaking studies to determine strengths and weaknesses and opportunity for future growth," Bryant said.

Specifically, they are looking for ways to improve the quality of life on and around the forts and for "enhanced use leasing" of property near the base.

An example of the latter case would be to have a hotel chain build and maintain a facility and then have them lease it to the military as transient lodging for military personnel.

The Army birthday is a good opportunity to highlight the role the bases have in Atlanta and Clayton County, Bryant said.

"It's not just the base itself that's celebrating the anniversary," Bryant said. "It's the entire community and it's the entire state."

And the people of Georgia need to show their support for the forts to the decision-makers in Washington, D.C., said Anderson's husband, Ron Anderson.

"They need to contact anyone they can, from the federal level on down, to be sure they know how we feel about it," Ron Anderson said.