ARLINGTON NATIONAL CEMETERY, Va. – To mark Armed Forces Day, the services’ senior enlisted advisers joined the senior enlisted adviser to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in an inaugural wreath-laying ceremony here at the Tomb of the Unknowns.
On a gray afternoon between spells of light rain, Marine Corps Sgt. Maj. Bryan B. Battaglia and his fellow enlisted advisers hung the logos of the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force and Coast Guard on a wreath wrapped with purple ribbon just steps away from the gravesite.
Joining Battaglia in the ceremony were Sgt. Maj. of the Army Raymond F. Chandler III, Sgt. Maj. of the Marine Corps Michael P. Barrett, Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy Michael D. Stevens, Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force James A. Cody and Master Chief Petty Officer of the Coast Guard Michael P. Leavitt.
Chief Master Sgt. Denise Jelinski-Hall represented the National Guard Bureau.
Battaglia found the ceremony bittersweet, he told American Forces Press Service, “as it should be for everyone.”
On Armed Forces Day “we recognize and celebrate the service and sacrifice of all of our serving men and women past and present, and to have an event here at Arlington National Cemetery means that, on a sadder note, we also honor those who went before us,” he said. “They celebrate the day with us in spirit only.”
He added, “We’re hoping this will be an annual event and this is the right place to do it.”
The SEAC said he and the other enlisted advisers have the full cooperation from Arlington National Cemetery to hold the ceremony every year and display the wreath representing the armed forces and all five service branches for everyone who visits the Tomb of the Unknowns on Armed Forces Day.
May 17, President Barack Obama issued a proclamation that continues the precedent set by his predecessors by declaring the third Saturday of each May Armed Forces Day.
“Whenever our nation has come under attack, courageous men and women in uniform have risen to her defense. Whenever our liberties have come under assault, our service members have responded with resolve,” the president said in his proclamation.
“Time and again these heroes have sacrificed to sustain that powerful promise that we hold so dear — life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. And on Armed Forces Day, we honor those who serve bravely and sacrifice selflessly in our name,” he said.
On that Saturday, the commander in chief added, the nation thanks those in uniform and the families who serve alongside them.
“We are bound by a sacred obligation to ensure our service members and their loved ones have the resources and benefits they have earned and deserve,” Obama said, “and only when we uphold this trust do we truly show our appreciation for our armed forces.”
In his own statement to the men and women in uniform, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel called Armed Forces Day an opportunity for all Americans to express their gratitude to service members, military families and veterans who keep the nation strong and safe.
“In 2013 we mark the 12th consecutive Armed Forces Day with our nation at war — the longest period of sustained combat in our history, fought entirely by volunteers who made the courageous choice to answer the nation’s call,” the secretary said, and quoted Harry Truman, who as president proclaimed the nation’s first Armed Forces Day — “America was not built on fear,” Truman said. “America was built on courage, on imagination and an unbeatable determination to do the job at hand.”
Such courage, imagination and determination come from ordinary citizens who step forward to do extraordinary things throughout the nation’s history, Hagel said.
“To all our Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines and Coast Guardsmen: Take pride – not only on Armed Forces Day but every day – in the uniform that you wear and the patriotic duty you perform. You are striving to make a difference and leading purposeful lives. You are part of a force that is admired and respected both at home and abroad. Remember that there is no challenge that cannot be met through the shared determination of the world’s greatest military,” the secretary said.
“To the husbands, wives, sons, daughters and loved ones of our service members: Armed Forces Day is also a day to recognize the considerable sacrifices you make every day, and for this nation to reaffirm its commitments to you. You too have made our nation stronger and safer,” he added.
“To our nation’s veterans,” Hagel concluded, “Thank you for the service you gave to this country and for the support that you give our men and women carrying on your legacy today.”
As the ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery came to a close, Battaglia recalled those who rest on these grounds and on the grounds of all the veterans’ cemeteries across the nation.
“They still serve,” he said, “and we use them as inspiration. They’re still part of the team.
“Recognizing and celebrating Armed Forces Day is not just for those who witness it in person,” the SEAC added, “but for those who have fallen.”