With the 200th anniversary celebrations of the Lewis and Clark expedition kicking off this weekend, the Army wants to make sure that its role in the pivotal exploration of the American West is not forgotten.

To that end last week, the Army held a Pentagon launch of the Lewis and Clark Bicentennial Commemoration, complete with a living, breathing link to the expedition: Army Capt. Meriwether A. Sale Jr.

Sale, a Virginian, is a sixth-generation descendant of the sister of Capt. Meriwether Lewis, the Army officer chosen by President Thomas Jefferson to lead an expedition exploring the newly purchased Louisiana Territory.

"While most Americans have some knowledge of the importance of the Lewis and Clark expedition, relatively few recognize that it was an Army endeavor from the beginning to end," an Army release states.

Officially called the "Corps of Volunteers for North Western Discovery," the expedition of more than two dozen soldiers led by native Virginians Lewis and 2nd Lt. William Clark mapped a route beyond the Mississippi River to the West Coast and brought back invaluable geographic and scientific data.

For three days last week, the Army set up a commemorative display in the Pentagon's A-ring, with reenactors in uniforms of the type worn by soldiers of the expedition. The display included replicas and representations of many tools and scientific instruments carried by expedition members.

One reenactor occasionally blew a replica of a sounding horn that sent a blast reverberating down a Pentagon corridor, drawing puzzled glances from the stream of military officers and civilian employees striding past last Thursday afternoon. Some paused for a closer look.

"It's been neat to watch how many people are stopping by and expressing interest and asking smart questions," said Sale, who is well versed in Lewis and Clark history, having absorbed much over the years from his family and reread several histories in preparation for the commemoration.

An Air Force officer who stopped and eyed a replica of the sextant carried by the corps opined that what the expedition really could have used was a global positioning system (GPS) device. But much of the equipment Lewis and Clark carried represented technological breakthroughs for the turn of the 19th century, Sale said. "This was cutting edge at the time," he said.

The national commemoration begins at Jefferson's home at Monticello near Charlottesville on Saturday, the 200th anniversary of the day in 1803 that the president sent a letter asking Congress to fund the expedition. A series of events corresponding with milestones of the expedition are planned nationwide for the next

three years, culminating with a ceremony in St. Louis in September 2006 marking the expedition's completion.

To help highlight its role in the expedition, the Army brought Sale back from Germany, where he just completed command of a counterintelligence and human intelligence company, to participate in events at the Pentagon and in Charlottesville.

In addition to holding the same rank as Lewis, Sale, an Army Ranger, is 31 years old, the same age Lewis was in the second year of the expedition.

"He brings this niche of the story to life," said one of the Pentagon reenactors, Ken Wilk, a Corps of Engineers official serving as an assistant national coordinator for the Lewis and Clark bicentennial.

Meriwether Lewis never married and had no children. But his older sister, Jane Lewis, married Edmund Anderson and had nine children. Sale is a distant nephew of Meriwether Lewis through that lineage.

Sale, the son of a pastor, grew up in Virginia and attended Hampden-Sydney College, where he earned an ROTC commission for the Army. It was not the Lewis connection that inspired him to join the Army, but as his first name implies, the connection is still a key element in the family's identity.

"It's a big part of who we are," Sale said. The torch is being passed to his eldest son, 5-year-old Meriwether Anderson Sale III.

An avid rock climber and backpacker, Sale has followed along some sections of the path taken by Lewis.

Sale sees parallels between the military intelligence in which he is engaged and the expedition two centuries ago. "It's the same type of thing -- seeking the truth, a quest for knowledge," he said.

The captain is to be assigned to Fort Meade in Anne Arundel County this spring, although he acknowledged that a possible U.S. war with Iraq might delay that assignment. That made a few days spent remembering the heritage of Lewis and Clark all the more worthwhile, he said.

"It's nice to be able to pause in the midst of all this craziness and say, 'We're not going to forget all that history,' " Sale said.

Area Units at the Ready

It's de{acute}ja{grv} vu for the D.C. Army National Guard's 547th Transportation Company, which is being activated again for a possible conflict with Iraq.

More than 100 members of the truck-driving company, led by 1st Lt. Malik Freeman, are being activated for as long as a year beginning today. The unit is being assigned to the U.S. Central Command, which is overseeing preparations for war with Iraq.

This is the first mobilization for the 547th since operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm in 1990 and 1991, when drivers for the company logged more than 750,000 accident-free miles and the unit had the highest equipment-standard rating in the 553rd Combat Support Battalion.

Unit members are undergoing administrative and medical preparations this week and are to hold a deployment ceremony Sunday at the D.C. Armory before heading to Fort Eustis, Va., for shipment overseas.

Earlier this month, the D.C. Army National Guard's 276th Military Police Company, led by 1st Lt. James Clark, was mobilized and assigned to help protect Bolling Air Force Base in Washington.

This stems from an agreement between the Army and Air Force. Security forces for the Air Force are stretched thin, with many reservists called up to protect air bases soon after Sept. 11, 2001, still on active duty.

Meanwhile, the D.C. Air National Guard's 113th Air Wing, based at Andrews Air Force Base, is bracing for possible activation. The unit, which flies F-16 fighters, is preparing for a previously scheduled deployment to Turkey in April to enforce the no-fly zone over northern Iraq.

"We are prepared to go early if necessary," said Brig. Gen. David Wherley, commander of the D.C. Air National Guard.

Military Matters appears every other week. Steve Vogel can be reached at vogels@washpost.com.

Ken Wilk, left, and Bob Dorian sport 1803-era uniforms at the Pentagon as part of the effort to commemorate the Lewis and Clark expedition.While Capt. Meriwether A. Sale Jr. looks on, Army Lt. Col. Gary Fowler checks a "naturalist microscope," one of many items that will be on display during the three-year campaign.