LATHAM, N.Y.- After 40 years in the Army – 27 in the New York Army National Guard—Chief Warrant Officer 5 Robert Wold figured he'd earned the right to cut the cake during the New York National Guard headquarters' celebration of the National Guard birthday on Tuesday.
"I am lucky to have been around and had the length of career that I have been afforded - pretty lucky," Wold said. "Most people don't get the opportunity to serve in an organization - in and out of the military for that matter --and get to do the things I got to do."
Wold, who turns 60 next month, joined 17-year old Army National Guard Pvt. Cameron Thompson, and Air National Guard Airman Kevin Gabay, 20, in cutting the cake marking the 380th birthday of the National Guard.
Traditionally the oldest Guard member present at the ceremony joins the youngest in cutting the cake with a saber.
Brig. Gen. Raymond Shields, commander of the New York Army National Guard, also took part in the cake cutting.
The National Guard, today composed of the Army National Guard and the Air National Guard, traces its birthday back to Dec. 13, 1636, when the General Court of the Massachusetts Bay Colony passed a law establishing formal militia companies in the colony. These companies were made up of all adult males older than 16 and were expected to meet and train in military skills regularly.
Today, 450,000 members of the Army and Air National Guard respond to both federal and state missions.
New York has just under 16,000 members in its Army and Air National Guard.
While the event was officially a celebration of the National Guard's history and mission, it is much more than that, Shields said.
"It is really a celebration of our Soldiers, Airmen, civilian employees and of course our families who are the bedrock of our ability to serve," he said.
As part of the ceremony, two newly enlisted Airmen and five recruit Soldiers re-took the oath of enlistment.
Wold, a Charlton, New York resident, and a helicopter pilot, recently finished a six-year stint as command chief warrant officer for the New York National Guard.
In that role he was responsible for overseeing the New York Army National Guard's warrant officer corps.
Wold enlisted in the Army in 1975. He served in the Army Reserve for a few months before becoming a warrant officer and a pilot and reentering active duty in 1980. In 1989 he joined the New York Army National Guard and served in a variety of aviation positions before joining the headquarters staff in 2010.
He's had a tremendous opportunity to see the Army National Guard change from a totally reserve force to an operational force which serves alongside the active Army, Wold said.
Thompson, who enlisted in November 2016 in the New York Army National Guard's 466th Area Medical Support Company as a wheeled vehicle mechanic, said he was honored to be part of the cake cutting ceremony.
"I know I am the younger generation. I wanted to stand up there proud and show everybody what the National Guard is all about, the Hudson Falls, New York, high school senior said.
Gabay, a junior at the State University of New York Albany, said he joined the New York Air National Guard's 109th Airlift Wing as an air transportation apprentice out of a sense of duty.
When he was five, his father, uncle and cousin were all first responders in New York City when the World Trade Center was attacked on Sept. 11, 2001.
"I felt I had to do something to support the cause," Gabay said.
Wold, who will retire early in 2017, said the advice he offers to young Guard members like Gabay and Thompson is to "accomplish each task like you'll be here 40 years."
When he was a young Army specialist he was offered the chance to attend primary leadership school, Wold explained. He turned it down, since he planned to leave the service in a few months.
But when he was serving in the Army Reserve he regretted not taking that opportunity for the school, Wold added.
The lesson he learned, was never pass up the chance to further your military qualifications, Wold explained.
The New York National Guard can date its heritage back to the Burgher Guard, organized by the Dutch East Indian Company in 1640 to help protect New Amsterdam from their English neighbors in Massachusetts and Virginia or from hostile natives.
After New Amsterdam became the English colony of New York in 1665, a militia modeled on the system used in Massachusetts and other English colonies was put in place.
New York gets the credit for giving the country the term National Guard for its Citizen-Soldiers and Airmen.
In 1825, the 2nd Battalion, 11th Regiment of the New York Militia renamed themselves the National Guard to honor the Marquis de Lafayette, a hero of the American Revolutionary War who was visiting New York City. Lafayette had commanded a force called the "Guard de National" in the early days of the French Revolution, so the unit renamed itself in honor of that unit.
Other notable elements of New York National Guard history are:
• The 1st Battalion, 69th Infantry – nicknamed the Fighting 69th-- was portrayed in the 1940 movie "The Fighting 69th" starring Jimmy Cagney and Pat O'Brien. The movie was based on the historic unit's service in World War I.
• The New York Army National Guard's 42nd Infantry Division was given its nickname "The Rainbow Division" during World War I by Gen. Douglas MacArthur. MacArthur, then a colonel, was charged with organizing a division of National Guard troops from across the country to deploy to France in 1917. He described the division as reaching across the country "like a rainbow."
• The band of the New York National Guard's 369th Infantry Regiment, an African American unit originally formed as the 15th New York, is credited with introducing jazz music to Europe during World War I. The 369th became known as the Harlem Hell Fighters.
• The oldest Air National Guard unit in the nation is part of the New York Air National Guard. The 102nd Rescue Squadron of the 106th Rescue Wing traces its history back to the 1st Aero Company organized in the New York National Guard in 1908 as a balloon unit.
• The Soldiers of the New York National Guard's 105th Infantry Regiment faced the largest Japanese "Banzai" attack of the Second World War on 7 July 1944 on the Island of Saipan. The 1st and 2nd Battalions of the 105th Infantry had 650 men killed and wounded but killed more than 4,300 Japanese Soldiers. Three regimental Soldiers earned the Medal of Honor posthumously in that battle that day.
• The New York National Guard's 42nd Infantry Division served in Iraq in 2005 and was the first National Guard division headquarters to deploy to a combat zone since the Korean War in 1953.