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New York Army National Guard Soldiers display tools of their trade for Army’s 239th birthday
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New York Army National Guard Spc. Erik Grijalva instructs a visitor on the proper way to handle an M-249 Squad Automatic Weapon during a weapons and equipment display the unit hosted as part of the Army's celebration of its 239th Birthday on June 14, 2014. Gen. Raymond Odierno, the Chief of Staff of the Army, took part in the event, held on June 13 in Bryant Park.

New York Army National Guard Spc. Erik Grijalva instructs a visitor on the proper way to handle an M-249 Squad Automatic Weapon during a weapons and equipment display the unit hosted as part of the Army's celebration of its 239th Birthday on June 14, 2014. Gen. Raymond Odierno, the Chief of Staff of the Army, took part in the event, held on June 13 in Bryant Park. (Photo by Maj. Alvin Phillips)

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June 16, 2014 —

NEW YORK - More than 20 New York National Guard Soldiers from the historic 1st Battalion, 69th Infantry took part in a New York City ceremony held in Bryant Park here Friday to commemorate the Army's 239th birthday.

With the skyline of New York City as a backdrop, the National Guard Soldiers gathered at the park and set up two displays on the north entrance and the south entrance with typical gear used in the particular unit. Representing the 1-69th battalion were Alpha Company, which showcased and demonstrated the proper use of the M4 machine gun and the M-240B and M-249 on the north entrance. By all accounts this was the hottest civilian draw at the park.

"This is very exciting, especially since it is my first time celebrating the Army's birthday," Spc. Erik Grijalva, a Brooklyn native from A Company, 1-69 said. "All the attention and interest in our weapons makes me proud to be a member of the 69th."

Headquarters and Headquarters Company with their 120mm Mortar weapons system and commonly referred to as a bazooka by City civilians were camped out at the South entrance.

"It is not every day that we can interact with the public and show them what our job entails. Something like people calling the mortar a bazooka is really unique but even better after I tell then the difference. The interaction totally contributes to the amount of pride I already have for this unit," said Spc. Antonio Reyes of Staten Island, a member of Headquarters and Headquarters Company.

Gen. Raymond Odierno, the chief of staff of the Army was on hand to witness a full production of pomp and circumstance to mark the occasion.

He applauded all the participants who came out for the event that included members from the Old Guard Silent Drill Team, Colonial Revolutionary Squad and band, the Army's Morale and Welfare Down Range Band, USO entertainment troupe, New York Police Department Emerald Society Pipes and the United States Military Academy at West Point band.

Additionally, the attendees who included 100 passersby witnessed a birthday cake cutting and a swearing in of 20 local enlistees by the chief of staff.

After the ceremony concluded, at the request of 1-69 Battalion Commander, Maj. Sean Flynn, Odierno met the youngest National Guard Soldier in attendance, Pvt. Naiquan Walker, a Brooklynite and member of A Company.

The 1st Battalion 69th Infantry has a celebrated and storied history going back to the Civil War as depicted in the films "Gettysburg" and "Gods and Generals."

The battalion is approaching its tenth anniversary of deployment to Iraq for Operation Iraqi Freedom in which members were charged with securing the road between the Baghdad Airport and the International Zone, or Green Zone, known as Route Irish and once considered the most dangerous route in Iraq.

The unit, which was established in 1849 by Irish immigrants and exiles, retains its immigrant spirit today, with nearly a quarter of its Soldiers born outside of the United States.

"It is indeed a great honor to have members of the New York National Guard be here today because it is an integral part of the same team - Active, Reserve, Guard," said Maj. Matt Sucec, Military District of Washington Special Events staff officer. "We are one unified front," he added.