Part of Pittsburgh history ends as historic Army unit cases colors
April 21, 2009
PITTSBURGH (Army News Service, April 21, 2009) - There were tears in the eyes of veterans as they watched the colors of the 99th Regional Readiness Command being cased on stage at the Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hall April 19.
One of these veterans, Harry E. McCracken, was a World War II combat medic who fought with the 99th Infantry Division at the Battle of the Bulge. He tried to hide his tears as he watched the ceremony come to an end, surrounded by fellow Pittsburghers, veterans and Soldiers still in uniform.
At that moment, retired Maj. Gen. Karol A. Kennedy, a former commander of the 99th RRC, leaned over in her seat and whispered into McCracken's ear, "It's all right Harry. Even Soldiers can cry."
Her own eyes were moist with emotion.
Their tears were in contrast to Soldiers on stage who performed the ceremony with sharp movements and steady postures.
The retiring of unit colors has come to be a frequent tradition in today's Army Reserve, which is constantly evolving to best adapt to lessons learned and better fight the war on terror.
In this case, however, the 99th colors are not being retired to a storage room in some higher headquarters. They are moving from their historic home of Pittsburgh to Fort Dix, N.J., where the 99th has been re-established as the 99th Regional Support Command.
"It seems difficult to part with so many aspects of Pittsburgh that have always made the 99th Soldier feel welcomed and at home," said Maj. Gen. William Monk III, commanding general of the 99th RSC, during his speech.
"I say to you today that the city of Pittsburgh will forever be etched in the lineage and honors of the 99th - wherever its home, or whatever its mission," he said.
At its new location, the 99th RSC will provide base operations support to units across 13 states of America's Eastern Seaboard, from southern Virginia to the northern tip of Maine.
This transition is just part of the bigger transformation happening throughout the Army Reserve to streamline the force and increase its capabilities and readiness to deploy, officials said.
The new structure intends to help regional commands focus more on training, leader development, unit readiness and shorter mobilization times. The transformation is also tailored to improve human resources staff, provide more stability for Soldiers (and their families) for deployment and increase the number of trained Soldiers in specific military occupational specialties available for individual augmentation.
"These sweeping changes are indeed in the best interest of the nation's defense ... and to develop the strategies as a force to always be ready to respond to the call to duty (that) 99th Soldiers have never failed to meet," Monk said.
Several Soldiers involved with the 99th RRC called this day "bittersweet" and expressed mixed emotions. It pained them to see a unit so historically tied to Pittsburgh move to another location.
"I feel like part of me is leaving," McCracken said with tears still in his eyes.
Since 1921, the 99th Division took up the patch symbolized by Pittsburgh's code of arms. Many of its Soldiers are local residents of Allegheny County who spent most of their career with this command.
McCracken also expressed his joy for being able to share this day with former generals of the 99th and said he was honored for being invited to the event. At one point during his deployment to Europe, McCracken was offered a direct commission that would have sent him to Japan. He refused it because he wanted to stay with the unit. The 99th Inf. Div. eventually led him to Camp Moosburg, Germany, where his own brother was held as a prisoner of war.
The flag being rolled and cased before him was more than just an arrangement of colors and shapes. McCracken said he felt part of his own history being rolled up with that flag.
There was still comfort in some Soldiers knowing the colors were not being retired completely, but moving along to a new location.
"It's kind of unusual seeing these colors leaving this city where they've really been ... and having to go all the way to Fort Dix. But the good thing we can take heart in, as Soldiers of the 99th, is that ... although this unit is leaving, it's not going away. Its mission has changed slightly, but the colors stay (present)," said Col. Steven Patarcity, chief of staff of the 200th Military Police Command.
Patarcity has been affiliated with the 99th since 1977, both as a Soldier and as civilian employee. He has had to stand down two battalions and three companies in the past, so he understands the process is just part of the Army's continual evolution.
"It's simply a fact of life and the Army. The Army is always in a constant state of change in my opinion as they attempt to reorganize to get set for the next war, the next battle, or the next enemy," said Patarcity, who has been living in Pittsburgh since 1994.
The faces and changing uniforms of the 99th have seen many different enemies throughout time. They have engaged in combat during both World Wars; The Korean and Vietnam Wars; Operations Urgent Fury and Just Cause; Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm; and Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom.
The history of the 99th has had to face tough challenges. In 2001, Kennedy was the commanding general of the 99th RRC for just four months when the unthinkable happened.
She was in a meeting in the Pentagon when she received a text message from her husband telling her a plane had hit a building in New York City. When she received the second text about the second hit, her own conference room shook.
"Just at that moment, our conference table lifted off the floor and plummeted down and ... the board president came back in and told us what had happened in New York and we realized we had been hit as well," she said.
Throughout the chaos, Kennedy was not able to reach anyone by phone. Eventually, Kennedy made her way home, but she knew she couldn't stay there long.
"My aide drove up to North Carolina and we drove up to the (99th) Headquarters because my husband said to me, 'You want to be with your Soldiers, don't you'' And I said, 'I have to be,'" said Kennedy, who would soon have to deploy her own Soldiers to a combat zone across the oceans.
Since the beginning, the 99th responded against enemy threats and evolved in structure, size and function to do so. It began as cadre activated at Camp Wheeler, Ga., toward the end of World War I, then moved to Pittsburgh in 1921 as an infantry division, later becoming an Army Reserve command (1967), Regional Support Command (1995), Regional Readiness Command (2003) and now an RSC once again, but in a new location.
"It's sad for Pennsylvania because of the lineage and the connection, but I understand that we have to reorganize and we have to position ourselves as citizen-Soldiers and form units that can support the Army and its mission," Kennedy said.
"The old units are outdated. We have different kinds of missions and different operations that we have to sustain and support and this is just the painful part of it."
Toward the end of the ceremony, Representative William Jones read a citation passed by town council declaring April 19 an official holiday for the city of Pittsburgh, known as 99th Infantry Division Day.