Royal Hospital Chelsea pensioners visit Pentagon
November 13, 2008
By J.D. Leipold
WASHINGTON (Army News Service, Nov. 13, 2008) - Five retired British soldiers from the Royal Hospital Chelsea in England paid a visit to the Pentagon Wednesday to listen to how the U.S. Army is handling the war on terror in Iraq and Afghanistan, and heard insights from the sergeant major of the Army and what his job encompasses.
The pensioners were part of an international exchange program between the Royal Hospital and its U.S. equivalent, the Armed Forces Retirement Home. Unlike the U.S. version which provides care for retired enlisted servicemembers from all military branches, the Royal Hospital looks solely after retired Royal Army soldiers.
"We started the program with the Royal Hospital Chelsea in 2001," said Laura Fogarty, recreational director at the Armed Forces Retirement Home here. "Basically we have residents here who host the Chelsea soldiers and every other year a group comes here, usually around Veterans Day so they can participate in the Arlington Cemetery wreath-laying ceremony and then in the summer our four hosts will go to England hosted by the soldiers there."
The day kicked off for the British veterans with a lunch hosted by various sergeants major and command sergeants major, then moved into the secretary of the Army's conference room where the retired noncommissioned officers were first briefed by Col. Billy Farris, a veteran of several tours in Iraq and Maj. Brian Sullivan who served in Afghanistan as a battalion executive officer.
Farris briefed the guests about the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division's recent tour in Iraq, discussing the transformation to a modular BCT and the objectives the unit worked toward - building the Iraqi Security Forces, defeating the enemy networks through raids, enabling reconciliation among the sects, and protecting the population with concrete barriers.
Sullivan followed with his "boots on the ground" overview about serving with the 1st Battalion, 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment. He explained how his unit had done several combined operations with the United Kingdom and other NATO units while in southern Afghanistan.
A highlight to the afternoon was when Sgt. Maj. of the Army Kenneth O. Preston recalled his two-year tour in England during the early 1980s as a staff sergeant and instructor, then spoke with the group about his responsibilities as the top advisor to the chief of staff on all enlisted matters. Preston briefed the pensioners on recruiting efforts, Army values, warrior transition units and how the Army has changed since he joined in 1975.
Lewis Prangle, 88, served with the Royal Hampshire Regiment throughout World War II, from 1939 until 1946; saw combat in North Africa, the Middle East and took part in the Italian Campaign, in particular the Battle of Salerno.
"This was my first trip to the U.S. of A.," he said. "I was very moved by the sergeant major of the Army by his discourse. I'm envious of him to be the sergeant major of the entire Army since the Royal Army does not have a sergeant major of the Army."
For 77-year-old John Vaughan, a warrant officer 2nd class who spent 22 years with the Royal Electric and Mechanical Engineers in Nigeria, Germany and Sierra Leone in the 1950s and early 1960s, the visit to the Pentagon was exceptional.
"Listening to those three up there was unbelievable. This trip has been fantastic; I really enjoyed it and hope they'll let me come back," he said.
Geoffrey Crowther, 78, who served for 22 years in the Royal Artillery, was what he termed "gobsmacked."
"I was just amazed," Crowther said. "All those lectures, the Soldiers telling us all about the Army; it was out of this world, just wonderful."
Nigel Gilbert, a retired Royal Army colonel and one of four administrators for the Royal Hospital, was equally impressed.
"I think when you actually get a presentation and you're hearing it first-hand, you gain a bit more knowledge than when you get it from the media," he said. "It brings it home to you so it's always good to talk to people who have experienced what is going on in Iraq and Afghanistan. When I heard the Pentagon was on our program, I couldn't believe it, so coming here has been a great privilege."