Story by David Vergun on 06/04/2018FORT BENNING, Ga. ---Four platoons of brand new infantry Soldiers marched proudly onto Fort Benning's Inouya Field April 13 to join the ranks of millions who graduated from basic combat training here and elsewhere.
Lt. Col. Shawn Bault, the regimental commander, marched crisply front and center to address the Soldiers and several hundred family and friends in attendance for the graduation in the reviewing stands.
"This is a life-changing experience for you," he said. "When you raised your right hand to take the oath of enlistment, you volunteered to be a part of something much bigger than yourselves. You are now brothers in arms."
The pride exuding from the Soldiers and viewers was palpable. It brought back similar memories 43 years ago when I graduated from Marine Corps boot camp at Parris Island, South Carolina.
Bault reminded the Soldiers that besides swearing to support and defend the Constitution, the Soldiers had also affirmed to uphold the Army Values: loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, honor, integrity and personal courage. "These are non-negotiable terms that you will uphold for the rest of your life."
Every regiment has a story to tell and Bault noted the illustrious history of the training center's 47th Infantry Regiment, created during World War I, with campaigns that included the Meuse-Argonne in that war, landings in Sicily and Normandy in World War II and operations during the Tet offensive during the Vietnam War.
I thought that undoubtedly, many of these Soldiers would be on a field of battle in some distant place someday, adding to the Army's illustrious legacy and defending our freedoms.
"After 10 weeks of vigorous training, you can be proud of your achievement," Bault said.
This is just the beginning, he added. There will be many more challenges to overcome in the Army and in life. "Strive for excellence and you will continue to succeed."
A marching band played. Some re-enactors garbed in uniforms from wars of the past dating to the Revolutionary War marched out with their period weapons. Then, modern-day Soldiers dressed in combat gear performed some squad tactics.
The Army is big on ceremony and tradition and all of this added to the occasion.
The ceremony concluded and I realized that America has been turning out the world's finest Soldiers, like these, since Dec. 13, 1636, when the Massachusetts legislature authorized its militias to be organized into three regiments, well before the official Army birthday, June 14, 1775.
Arriving before the graduation started, I had a chance to speak to some of the attendees, curious to get their perspectives on the day's events.
Amber Smith said her husband, Pvt. Michael Smith, 30, had always wanted to join the Army but after college he got a civilian job and went to college and just never got around to doing it.
Then one day he realized, she said, that he wasn't getting any younger, so he took the plunge before it was too late and he's excited about beginning his Army career, although he doesn't know what his military occupational specialty will be.
In 1974, I enlisted on an open contract, similar to what Smith did, without knowing what my MOS would be. Turned out for me it would be motor transport with the 2nd Marine Division.
But in the grand scheme of things, it really doesn't matter the MOS, because Smith is now a Soldier for Life, as I'm a Marine for Life.
These are elite fraternities where your brothers-in-arms will be considered family, as Bault mentioned.
I then spoke to Sgt. 1st Class Adam Leinen, a recruiter in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. He was there to watch his brother, Pvt. Aaron Leinen, 22, graduate.
Leinen said he recruited his younger brother himself.
While many people join the Army for benefits such as education and learning a trade, Leinen said that people need to know that there's always the possibility of being in combat as he was in Afghanistan.
He said his brother knew the benefits and the risks when he enlisted and decided that Army service was something he wanted to do, because, as Bault mentioned, there's the opportunity to be a part of something much bigger than yourself.
For the Leinens then, they are now truly brothers-in-arms. What a proud family, I thought.
Unfortunately, there are so few veterans around these days to talk to about military life to inspire a new generation. So it's up to Soldier and Marine veterans like us to try and help spread the word about the worth of serving.
It seems that you can almost always tell someone you don't know is a veteran by the way they carry themselves and their no-nonsense approach, straight talk and a willingness to roll up their sleeves and get the job done and done right no matter the obstacles.
Maybe the demeanor comes from enduring the hardships and adversity of military life that are not mentioned in the recruiting brochures. Maybe it's not wanting to let your comrades down. Maybe it's pride in service to country. Maybe it's the incredible responsibilities and leadership opportunities you are expected to fulfill. Maybe it's the NCO who showed you how it's done or inspired you. Whatever it is, it seems to stay with you forever.
LEGACIES OF SERVICE
As I left the graduation, I passed by the Dignity Memorial Vietnam Wall, a replica of the one in Washington, D.C., and the nearby larger-than-life bronze status of modern-day Soldiers themed the Global War on Terrorism Memorial and thought about all of the sacrifices that were made to defend the freedoms we all enjoy.
There was something I was curious about, however: the parade field. I knew that Inouya Field must be named for the late Sen. Daniel K. Inouye, of Hawaii, who had served in the Army in World War II, but I didn't know much more about him than that.
So when I got to my hotel room, I looked up his biography on the computer and discovered that he had served with the 442nd Infantry Regimental Combat Team.
He lost his arm and was shot in the stomach near San Terenzo, Italy, in April 1945, while leading an assault on a heavily defended ridge.
Refusing medical treatment, he continued to lead his men until he collapsed from the loss of blood. He was later awarded the Medal of Honor.
I also learned that he was elected to Hawaii's territorial House of Representatives and then to the territorial Senate in 1957. He continued to serve after 1959 when Hawaii became a state as a U.S. representative and later in the Senate.
Inouya, a Japanese-American, could have despaired about the internment of many of his fellow citizens and refused service, but he didn't. He volunteered. That makes his story that much more compelling.
Not every Soldier will win a Medal of Honor or become a distinguished senator, but just having served -- be it during wartime or peacetime -- is something to be proud of, and being a good citizen in the community after service is an added honor.
It's a story that more of us veterans need to tell.
(Follow David Vergun on Twitter: @vergunARNEWS)