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Why I Serve: Proud to Be in Army's Best Job, Unit

By Sgt. 1st Class Doug Sample, USA
American Forces Press Service

FORT MYER, Va., Dec. 8, 2004 – Army Spc. Kyle Knapp speaks proudly of being a soldier, and proudly about what he does in the military and the unit he serves with.

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Army Spc. Kyle Knapp, 21, a member of the Old Guard's Presidential Salute Battery at Fort Myer, Va., recently returned from the Horn of Africa after completing his first deployment. Photo by Sgt. 1st Class Doug Sample, USA

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

Knapp, 21, is an infantry mortarman, an "11 Charlie" in Army terms. In combat his job is to lay down fire support for infantrymen on the frontline.

His current assignment with the 3rd U.S. Infantry (Old Guard) here has him firing only blanks, but Knapp doesn't mind. The Willimantic, Conn., native is member of the Old Guard's Salute Gun Platoon, where he is assigned to the Presidential Salute Battery.

The Salute Gun Platoon is a precision-firing team responsible for the cannons that render honors during ceremonies at the White House, the Pentagon and elsewhere in the metropolitan Washington area.

The unit's vintage World War II 75 mm anti-tank guns also can be heard echoing the final salute at burials at Arlington National Cemetery.

Knapp said taking part in such important ceremonies is why he has one of the best jobs in the Army, and why he is proud to serve. "It a great job, the best one here," he said. "I take lot of pride in what I do."

He said his unit often holds gun competitions to see which gun in practical training -- is the "fastest and the most proficient."

Also, during ceremonial training the mortarmen compete to see which cannon looks the best, he explained. "My squad is always up in the top running, because we take a lot of pride in making sure our equipment is the best maintained, the best that it can be," he noted.

Another source of his pride is the combat patch that he now wears on his uniform. Knapp is one of about 170 soldiers who earned the right to wear the patch on his sleeve after returning this year from a historic deployment to Djibouti on the Horn of Africa. It was the first time since the Vietnam War that the Old Guard had deployed for combat duty.

He said deploying to Africa, where he worked in a tactical environment and where temperatures reached 140 degrees, was the experience of a lifetime.

"It was definitely good training, it was good to do something at a different pace, to learn exactly how the 'real Army' works. So I was definitely happy to get that experience; it was a good lifetime experience."

Because both of his parents were deceased, Knapp's grandparents raised him until he was 15. He then set out on his own.

He said he joined the military straight out of high school, though his first choice was college. That opportunity was lost, however, when he broke his ankle, and two colleges that had recruited him to play football withdrew scholarship offers.

Knapp said he joined the military as a way to pay for school, but also because his uncle, a retired Army lieutenant colonel, urged him to do so.

"He never had anything bad to say about the service," Knapp said of his uncle. "He said, 'You get to see the world, you get great pay, you don't have to worry about anything. They take care of you.' That's why I joined the Army."

Knapp said serving with the Army's Old Guard has been a "good opportunity and learning experience." He said he often compares those opportunities and experiences to those of his friends back at home, and knows their experiences can't compare with his.

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