Fort Bliss celebration honors patron saint of artillery
December 11, 2008
FORT BLISS, Texas--Soldiers from units across Fort Bliss toasted Saint Barbara on Dec. 6, raising a glass to the patron saint of artillerymen during a celebration at the Centennial Club.
More than 500 guests turned out for the annual Saint Barbara's Day Banquet, an event sponsored by the Air Defense Artillery Association and organized 3rd Battalion, 6th Air Defense Artillery Brigade.
The observance of Saint Barbara's Day is a tradition in the field artillery and air defense artillery branches, and one that active Soldiers and retirees look forward to, said Chief Warrant Office Larry Bowen of 3-6 ADA, one of the event's organizers.
"We try to keep alive the tradition; that's the main thing," he said. "Saint Barbara, Molly Pitcher, the Ancient and the Honorable Order, they're all great traditions within the Army.
"A lot of things change, but our traditions remain the same," Bowen added.
The tradition included remarks by a keynote speaker, an artillery punch ceremony, and the induction of about 30 new members into the Ancient and Honorable Orders of Saint Barbara and of several spouses into the Order of Molly Pitcher.
But first, noncommissioned officers from the rank of corporal to command sergeant major built a 9-foot-tall spine, a representation of the "Backbone of the Army," in recognition of 2008 being named the Year of the Noncommissioned Officer. The night's guest speaker followed.
"It's great to see so many people here tonight as we continue this ... traditional artillery celebration," said Maj. Gen. Howard B. Bromberg as he introduced the evening's keynote speaker, retired Maj. General Don Infante, who arrived with his wife Norma Jean.
Infante entered the Army in 1959 and served for more than 30 years, four of those as post commander and commandant of the ADA School at Fort Bliss. Following retirement, he spent 19 years working in the aerospace industry and now serves a private consultant for air defense systems integration and implementation.
During his remarks, Infante discussed his vision for the future of the air defense and field artillery branches, as well as changes throughout the Army and at Fort Bliss.
"Change surrounds you here at Fort Bliss - if you don't believe that, just drive out to Biggs Army Airfield," he said, noting that in his day it ended with the U.S. Army Sergeants Major Academy. "You know where this post is headed when you drive out to Biggs."
In lieu of the traditional gift for the guest speaker, "a memento that Norma Jean would just have to put out in the garage," the banquet's organizers asked Infante if they could make a $200 donation to Fort Bliss' Warrior Transition Unit, said Lt. Col. James Payne, 3-6 ADA commander.
"In characteristic fashion, [Infante] said, 'That's a wonderful idea, but I'd like to go one better. I'd like to contribute an additional $200 of my own money, so together we can present $400 to the WTU,'" Payne said.
Lt. Col. Peter H. Evans and Command Sgt. Maj. David Kiel, commander and command sergeant major of the WTU, respectively, accepted the check from Infante.
An artillery punch ceremony - also called a "grog" ceremony - followed, with punch master Sgt. Maj. Perry Martin calling for audience participation to get the job done. Ingredients ranging from a sample of last year's punch to "mud from the trenches of World War II" and a sock for "seasoning" completed the brew, which was then sampled by inductees as they became part of the orders.
"This is a real honor to be inducted into the Ancient Order of Saint Barbara," Col. James M. Baunchalk, commander of William Beaumont Army Medical Center, said after the ceremony. "This is the second time I've served with the artillery and air defenders ... and it's good to be in their midst. It's good to be part of the order and it's nice to be standing shoulder to shoulder with these great Soldiers."