In a stirring speech commemorating the Army’s 242nd birthday and the observance of Flag Day, Rep. John Sarbanes called the American flag the “voice of this country.”
“It is a statement, a declaration — it’s not just a design,” Sarbanes said. “ … It’s the voice of this country … being projected out into the world.”
The congressman was the keynote speaker at the Francis Scott Key Chapter of the Association of the United States Army’s annual Army Birthday/Flag Day Breakfast on June 14 at Burba Lake Cottage.
The 90-minute event began with a bagpipe musical prelude performed by Col. Bryan Stewart, the comptroller of U.S. Army Cyber Command.
The national anthem was performed by Kassie Sandacz of Voices of Vets, an organization that provides live music from the 1940s, ’50s and ’60s to veterans’ homes across the U.S.
Retired Col. Jeremy Martin, a former commandant of the Defense Information School, gave the invocation.
Matt Hauser, the incoming president of the AUSA chapter, welcomed the audience and distinguished guests, which included retired Col. Kenneth O. McCreedy and retired Col. Edward C. Rothstein, both former Fort Meade garrison commanders; and Turhan Robinson, senior civilian aide to the secretary of the Army.
After breakfast, which was co-sponsored by Communications By Design, a telecommunications firm, the ceremonial cake was cut.
The cake, donated by Cunningham’s Restaurant in Towson, was cut with a saber by Garrison Commander Col. Tom Rickard. He was joined by the oldest Soldier in the room — retired Lt. Col. Alfred Shehab, 97, — and the youngest Soldier at the event — Spc. Nathan Mann, 27, of the Religious Support Office.
Mary Jane Jernigan, state president of the Maryland AUSA, acknowledged the service of retired Sgt. Maj. Jim Gilbert, outgoing president of the Francis Scott Key Chapter of AUSA, who served from 2000 to 2016.
Jernigan thanked Gilbert for his volunteer service and presented him with a past president AUSA lapel pin and a crystal eagle plaque.
“Nothing happens without a team,” Gilbert said in his remarks. “Those long years were not possible except for the AUSA team.”
Hauser presented Gilbert with a 15-star “Star Spangled Banner,” which flew over Fort McHenry in Baltimore on Memorial Day.
Jernigan then administered the oath of office to Hauser, the new president of the Francis Scott Key Chapter.
Hauser, owner of a local Geico insurance agency, has been a member of the chapter for 15 years. He will serve a two-year term.
Following the oath, retired Lt. Col. Ruth Hamilton, a past commander in chief of the Military Order of the World Wars, presented Sandacz with the Silver Patrick Henry Medallion for patriotic achievement for her work with Voices of Vets.
Rickard thanked the audience of 60 garrison leaders and employees for attending the event. He also invited them to Fort Meade’s 100th Anniversary Gala, which was held Saturday evening at Club Meade.
Rickard also introduced Sarbanes, who represents the 3rd Congressional District of Maryland.
Sarbanes, who has served in Congress since 2007, called AUSA an “indispensible” and “powerful advocate” for active-duty Soldiers.
He praised the organization for building a consensus to support active-duty military members, as well as veterans.
Sarbanes also talked about the indelible images of the American flag that have remained in his memory. He first mentioned the majesty of the American flag that flew over Fort McHenry during the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812.
“I’d never seen anything more beautiful,” Sarbanes said. “It struck a cord in me.”
Sarbanes said the image prompted him to think of the awe Francis Scott Key must have felt when he saw the flag over Fort MeHenry during the War of 1812. The sight inspired him to write the poem, which would later become the country’s national anthem.
The congressman called the War of 1812 the Second War of Independence, and said it was “as consequential and as powerful a statement as the first war.”
He said the War of 1812 was “a chance for a young nation to say ‘We have tasted this experiment in democracy and freedom and we want to hold onto it. We want to grasp it.’ ”
Sarbanes also recalled how he saw a painting of the American flag at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo. The painting was placed within quotation marks.
The image, he said, emphasized the flag’s role as “the voice of the country.”
Sarbanes said he also was impacted by the reverence the flag projects when he and a group of other political leaders visited Afghanistan in 2009. During their visit, two American service members were killed while on patrol.
The sight of the American flag draped over their caskets “was a very moving experience,” Sarbanes said.
The flag, he said, serves multiple roles.
“The flag is a symbol of bravery,” Sarbanes said. “To our allies, it’s a symbol of protection. … And for those who challenge us, the flag is a symbol of our nation’s resilience and power.”
After Sarbanes’ speech, Hauser presented him with a 15-star “Star Spangled Banner,” that also was flown over Fort McHenry on Memorial Day
To end the event, Sandacz sang a rousing rendition of “God Bless America.”