The oldest and most senior branch of the United States military in order of precedence, the U.S. Army actually predates the U.S. itself. Congress established the First Continental Army on June 14, 1775, more than a full year before the signing of the Declaration of Independence, to recruit professionally trained soldiers that could combat the British “Redcoats” in the Revolutionary War.

In the centuries since then, America’s Army has grown into a fighting force with approximately half a million active duty soldiers. And on Sunday, June 14, 2020, the U.S. Army will observe its 245th birthday, affording military servicemembers and civilians alike an opportunity to celebrate the branch’s rich history and continued role as a force for good in the world.

How to celebrate the U.S. Army’s birthday in 2020

Celebrations of the U.S. Army’s birthday will look much different this year due to the current pandemic. The Army’s birthday is not an official state or federal holiday, meaning government offices and private places of business remain open on June 14th, while Army and Department of Defense agencies typically choose to celebrate the occasion at the base or local level with special events, ceremonies, and social occasions. Additionally, a wreath will be laid at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington, Virginia, in celebration.

The USO, AMVETS, The American Legion, VFW, and other military service organizations also usually observe the holiday on a local or agency-wide level each year. If you would like to know if and how the birthday is being celebrated in your community, you can reach out to the local chapter of your preferred Veterans Service Organization.

One unique annual celebration is the Army Birthday Ball, which is usually held at military bases, community centers, civilian hotels, and other applicable sites around the world. This black-tie formal event features military members in full-service dress, also known as “Dress Blues” or “Mess Dress,” and includes a long list of traditions that are intended to pay respect to those who sacrificed life and limb to serve and to welcome the newest members of the service and salute the future of the Army at large.

"The appearance of U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) visual information does not imply or constitute DoD endorsement."“The appearance of U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) visual information does not imply or constitute DoD endorsement.”

In that spirit, one of the most popular traditions at the ball is the cutting of the Army birthday cake, in which the oldest serving soldier and the youngest serving soldier use a ceremonial saber to cut the first slice. Another common tradition is the receiving line, in which Army leaders personally greet each attendee entering the ballroom, and the giving of toasts to the United States, military families and to fallen comrades, the latter toast one that is always respectfully answered in silence.

This year, the 245th U.S. Army Birthday Ball was due to be held in Washington D.C. Saturday, June 13. Due to coronavirus, however, the event has been canceled.

Additionally, private citizens can always organize events in their own community or find ways to celebrate with friends and family. The 245th anniversary of the U.S. Army provides a wonderful opportunity to both reflect on the centuries of sacrifice that have come before, and celebrate the bright future that lies ahead for America’s fighting force.