It’s pretty quiet in Killeen for noon on a Monday.
November 11, 2012 (Killeen, Texas)
The Veteran’s Day Federal holiday has everything moving in slow motion. I can’t think of a better time to visit this place. It’s a stunning day with a clear blue sky. It had been a little chilly this morning when I left Austin. I step out of the car at Billy Bob’s Hamburgers in Killeen, the air is still cool but the sun warms my face. I am ready to visit with some friends and get a bite to eat.
I met Brigadier General Dean Milner and his lovely wife (Katrin) a few days prior at the Air Power Foundation’s Sky Ball event in Fort Worth. General Milner is one of a handful Canadian commanding generals appointed as a Deputy Commanding General of III Corps at Fort Hood. They were gracious enough to host me on my afternoon visit to Killeen and The Great Place (Ft. Hood). Another couple who were friends with Milner’s, joined us. We enjoyed really good greasy burgers and shared family, their military experience, politics, golf (I haven’t played in 15 years) and our shared love for Canada (I’ve only been to Montreal, but my Canadian friends remind me of Texans by their warmth and hospitality).
We finished up our meal and made the short drive to largest military installation in the free world, Ft. Hood. Frankly, I did not know what to expect. I imagined soldiers marching, doing PT while tanks rolled through the streets as the sound of artillery fire echoed in the distance. As we passed through the security gate, my world changed a bit. I’ve never been on a military post before. What I found was a giant neighborhood, hospitals, schools and friendly folks who wear our nation’s cloth. After dropping off Katrin at their home, Gen. Milner drove us passed the motor pool where all of the ‘cool stuff’ like tanks and armored vehicles were prepared for combat exercises. This was an amazing sight to see.
The twelve year old little boy in me came alive.
The memories of my boyhood flooded my mind. I remember having re-enactments of the Battle of the Bulge and other battles with hundreds of little green army men that lasted for days. On occasion, my parents would find me asleep on the floor of my room in the midst of battle, surrounded by little green army men, tanks, troop carriers, planes and artillery.
As we toured the post, General Milner shared the history and provided insight into the function of this home to nearly 50,000 troops. They call it ‘The Great Place’. It is both great in size and greater by the wonderful people who call it home. There is so much history here. So much sacrifice is represented here. Some men and women will be deployed never to return. Some will return with lasting wounds. One can sense that this post is in a constant state of preparation and readiness, even on a holiday when things are quiet.
Fort Hood is the home of the III Corps also called the Phantom Warriors. They were given this nickname by their enemy (Germans) in WWII after the Battle of the Bulge. The name stuck. On the road approaching the III Corps Headquarters, we pass the menacing statue of the Phantom Warrior (seen above). We passed through the entrance to the III Corps, a young soldier snapped to attention and with a shout, announced that a General had entered the building. It startled me. It was a reminder that I know very little about the military except what I read in books and the stories military friends have shared. I am unfamiliar with this form of discipline, order and respect.
Inside the structure, the place becomes a museum. Military history surrounds you.
“Every turn and every space reveal a rich legacy and symbolism. All of the wars and all of the sacrifice begin to weigh on the mind. Soldiers long since passed stare at you from photos on the walls. Many images were captured on the front lines of battle where Americans and her allies made the ultimate sacrifice. I looked into the faces of men and women much greater than me.”
Then I come to the photographs of those in command. The weight of the responsibility of this kind of leadership became very real. Sending men and women into battle is hard for me to fathom. Their lives depend on solid and responsible leadership all the way up the chain to the generals and ultimately, the President.
As I walked through the halls, my excitement turned to a sober realization of what it looks like to set aside our lives and rights to serve a cause greater than ourselves. I’m reminded of Philippians 2 “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.” Jesus set aside His glory and His rights to serve in obedience, even to the point of death.
What lessons did I learn visiting ‘The Great Place’?
I gained a deeper appreciation of sacrifice. I was exposed to a heavier expression of responsibility than I have ever experienced. I felt a deeper sense of gratitude for those who have sacrificed everything so that I could experience a day like this. My hope is that the impact of a few hours spent at ‘The Great Place’ will spill over into the lives of my family and community. Perhaps, I can sacrifice a little more, accept greater responsibility and be a little more thankful today than I was before. From an early age, my father who was in the Air Force always taught me to honor and appreciate men and women who serve our country. Those lessons have stayed with me.
Special Thanks to Brigadier General Dean Milner & Katrin for hosting me at the last minute. Thank you for your service.
If you read this and feel compelled to show gratitude this Thanksgiving, please consider a contribution to the Air Power Foundation. Find out more here
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