INDIANAPOLIS, May 22, 2007 - Amid the howl of revved-up racecars, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway yesterday showcased its 27th Armed Forces Day program with a group enlistment of recruits from all services and other military-themed events.
The track held its Armed Forces Day activities in conjunction with final timed qualifications, called “Bump Day,” to fill out the 33-car field for the Indianapolis 500 race May 27.
Near the entrance of the track’s green-tinted glass “Pagoda,” U.S. Sen. Richard G. Lugar of Indiana gave the oath of enlistment as 61 Indiana young people raised their right hands to join the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force or Coast Guard.
“The whole community wants to honor the people who’ve made the decision you’ve made to serve your country,” Lugar told the recruits before the swearing-in ceremony. “Thank you so much for being here and for your commitment.”
Lugar thanked speedway president and chief executive officer Tony George, noting this is the 27th year the track has hosted Armed Forces Day events. Lugar was among several prominent officials who participated in the Armed Forces Day program, which preceded the start of the day’s qualification runs.
Lugar presented a $105,000 college scholarship to each of four Indiana recruits who plan to obtain ROTC-sourced commissions upon graduation.
The speedway is among the more than 250 businesses and organizations nationwide that participate in the Defense Department’s America Supports You program, which recognizes citizens’ support for military men and women and communicates that support to members of the U.S. armed forces here and abroad.
The speedway "is proud of this special tradition today honoring the men and women of the armed services, past and the present, who with great ability have defended our country," George said, adding the speedway "is proud, also, to be the location of this enlistment ceremony and the (oath of enlistment) service provided by Sen. Lugar."
Allison Barber, deputy assistant secretary of defense for public liaison and internal communications, hailed George and his staff for their support.
When the America Supports You program was launched three years ago, Barber said she'd approached Tony George and his staff if they'd be interested in helping to support the troops.
"And, the folks at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway said: 'Sign us up,'" Barber recalled. "Tony, thank you for your support."
Barber said she’s impressed with the patriotism evidenced by the new military members and their families.
“When you see that kind of determination and tenacity and focus on mission, it gives you a great sense as an American citizen that we have young men and women in the military who say, ‘We want to serve our country,’” Barber said.
Tracy Funk’s 17-year-old son, Mitchell, joined the Air Force during the enlistment ceremony. Funk said she’s proud of her son’s decision.
“His dad is retired Air Force, and Mitchell has always wanted to follow in his dad’s footsteps. We’re very proud of him,” the 40-year-old mother and Brownsburg, Ind., resident said. “I believe in the training, and I’m confident that he’ll be safe.”
Funk believes a lot of young people “are missing out” by not joining the military. “To serve your country is an honor, and it’s a privilege,” she said.
Mitchell, who wants to become a helicopter gunner, said he’s not worried about being deployed overseas.
“We enjoy our freedom because of the men and women serving right now, and I am very proud that I get to do that,” he added.
Indiana Army National Guardsman Staff Sgt. Patrick Shannon was on hand to take three laps around the track with three-time Indy winner Johnny Rutherford at the wheel of the 2007 Chevrolet Corvette pace car. Shannon also waved the green flag to start the day’s qualification trials. A member of Indiana’s 38th Infantry Division, based in Indianapolis, Shannon was wounded in Ramadi, Iraq, in November.
Shannon said he was inspired to see the speedway and America Supports You honor the nation’s servicemembers.
“Any time that a company or individuals appreciate the military is outstanding,” Shannon said. “It’s a great feeling to know America’s behind you and that people support you.”
Several teams, including Indianapolis-based Playa del Racing, will sport America Supports You decals on the engine covers of their racecars during the Indy 500 race.
The troops “really do a great job of representing our country,” David Morgan, Playa del Racing’s team manager, said as mechanics prepped the team’s two 650-horsepower, Honda-V-8-powered machines. “It’s important to support what they’re doing.”