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National Guard celebrates birthday with run

WASHINGTON (AFPN) -- Members of the National Guard Bureau’s joint headquarters staff celebrated the National Guard’s 367th birthday a bit differently than in years past.

Most of them ran, and some of them walked two miles. Army Guard Lt. Gen. H. Steven Blum, in his first year as the Guard Bureau’s chief, led the way.

About 250 Army and Air Guard people took part in the first birthday fun run and walk that was held here at Fort McNair near the nation’s Capitol on Dec. 12. The run symbolized this year’s reorganization into a joint service headquarters. There were none of the formal, congratulatory speeches of years past.

Guard members also paused to remember and pray for the 126,483 citizen-soldiers and airmen who are deployed to more than 40 countries, most of them engaged in the war against terrorism.

Many of those deployed troops will not be home for Christmas, Blum said. They will be in places like Iraq, Afghanistan, Bosnia, Kosovo and Macedonia.

And more than 40 Guard members will never spend another holiday season with their loved ones, Air Guard Chaplain (Col.) John Ellington observed, because they have died during 2003 while serving their country.

The birthday celebration was far more social than somber.

First, the guardsmen ran or walked in formation at Fort McNair, where Blum has his personal quarters and where the four flags carried by the honor guard snapped in a brisk breeze off the sparkling Potomac River.

Then they ate birthday cake and sipped coffee or punch at the Army Guard’s Readiness Center across the river in Arlington, Va.

“We’re going to have to keep on defending our freedoms, because when we stop defending our freedoms, we will lose,” Blum said. “We will have Christmas on Dec. 25 whether we have the United States of America or not. But we won’t have the Fourth of July next year unless we earn it.

“For 367 years, National Guard citizen-soldiers and airmen have been making sure that we’re going to have more freedoms to defend and more rights to enjoy than we did the previous year,” Blum said. “We’re not going to let down. Those generations who went before us and the generations who come after us are not going to point to us and say we were asleep at the switch.”

The National Guard observes its birthday on Dec. 13, because that was the date in 1636 when about 1,500 members of the militia first mustered as the North, South and East Regiments in the Massachusetts Bay Colony.

The fun run and walk struck the right chord with those who took part.

“It was fun to go out and do something as a group,” said Air Guard Lt. Col. Yalda Clegg, the secretary to the Joint Staff at the National Guard’s headquarters. “It reinforced the idea of jointness, because we had Army and Air Guard people out there.

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