Oldest, youngest Guardsmen share experiences at National Guard’s 383rd birthday

National Guard celebrates 383rd birthday at Fort Sill

FORT SILL, Okla. (TNN) - Friday is the 383rd birthday of the National Guard and Fort Sill made sure to mark the occasion with a special ceremony.

The Adjutant General for the State of Oklahoma Major General Michael Thompson was on hand to talk about the history and importance of the National Guard.

Founded in 1636, Thompson said the guard has long been one of our country's greatest assets -- regular citizens rising to the occasion to protect our freedom.

"When our nation goes to war, the guard is always a part of that movement. The fact that the guard does it and maintains a citizen - soldier, ability to be a student, police officer or farmer, and put that aside and go and serve our country, I just think that's remarkable,” Thompson said.

After the ceremony, a cake was cut according to a national guard tradition, with the oldest and youngest serving member at Fort Sill doing the honors. That honor belonged to Private Elias Zeller, who is 17 years old and currently in boot camp, as well as Sergeant Major Gerald James, who is 58 and has served all over the world.

Private Zeller and Master Sergeant James are on very different paths now, but the story of how they got there is very similar.

"Back in the day, I wanted to be part of what used to be called the Army Air Force. A long time ago when I used to watch the commercials. My uncle was a drill sergeant, so I always went to Fort Jackson with him when I was younger and I just decided that’s what I wanted to be,” James said.

"My dad is a retired colonel, US Army. He was in 27 years. He motivated me. My grandpa was in the Navy 20 years. So, I’m 4th generation military in my family,” Zeller said.

James has 38 years of service under his belt.

"I’ve been to Germany, Bosnia, a lot of different installations in the United States,” James said.

He has actually tried to get out a few times.

"Well actually I tried to retire five times but each time I was told hey we still need you so continue on, so I just continued on,” James said.

17-year-old Zeller joined this year. He’s five weeks in to boot camp, after which he’ll head back to Colorado to get a college degree.

"My biggest goal as of now, I want to be the athletic trainer/physical therapist for the US Soccer Team. This is honestly one of the steps along the way,” Zeller said.

Through every step of his military journey thus far, Zeller has been the youngest person around, but said that drives him.

"I know I need to work harder because I’m not as physically developed or mentally developed so I need to work harder and just have a sharper mind and I’m willing to do that because in the end it’s all worth it,” Zeller said.

James said if Zeller keeps that motivation, he’ll have a long, happy career ahead of him.

"Stick to your morals. Do what’s right for you. Don’t listen to what the outsiders are telling you. Things are not as hard as they seem. Nothing lasts for a day. Just keep striving and everything will work out for you,” James said.

On the 383rd birthday of the National Guard, we here at 7NEWS want to thank Zeller and James, along with the countless others who have enlisted, for everything they’ve done for us.

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