Time machine: 2-39 vets visit contemporary counterparts
September 15, 2011
FORT JACKSON, S.C., Sept. 15, 2011 -- Warfighters of the past, present and future united Sept. 8 on Fort Jackson. A group of veterans who fought in Vietnam in 1968 and 1969 with the 2nd Battalion, 39th Infantry Regiment visited with cadre and Soldiers-in-training of the current 2-39th as part of their three-day reunion.
"It was a great honor to be able to reconnect with a previous generation of our unit's warriors with experiences that were both unique to their generation and similar to ours," said Capt. Steven Harrison, assistant operations officer with the 2-39th. "I believe the quote, 'Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it,' is applicable to the lessons learned that these warriors carry with them."
The veterans had planned their reunion to be in Charleston, S.C, but when they found out that the current 2-39th was stationed close by, they decided to contact the unit and ask if they could visit, said Ray Mann, one of the reunion organizers.
"In these kinds of issues there's hesitancy on both sides. Active duty folks don't know if they should be reaching out. Where the veterans are concerned, it's always a matter of intruding," Mann said.
"We just decided right away that neither of those barriers should exist. (The battalion leadership) immediately took this on. The colonel, the sergeant major and everybody got enthused about it. By the time we got here, I told all our folks, 'I think they're actually more excited at Fort Jackson than we are, if that's possible.'"
Lt. Col. Glen Blumhardt, the 2-39th commander, told the visitors that the battalion's Soldiers were honored to be able to connect with their predecessors.
"For us, personally, it means more than anything you could imagine. You've included us in the inner circle. And we understand exactly what it's like to be a member of this brotherhood," Blumhardt said. "Hopefully we won't let you down as we continue to carry the torch for the regiment."
Mann said he was overwhelmed by the dedication and motivation visible in the current Soldiers. He said he hopes that the veterans' visit will leave an impression on the current troops, as well.
"Our objective here, meeting these troops and these drill sergeants, is to deliver one message: They should know that whatever they go through here, they'll make it through and when they do and they go about their military careers. It's something they'll never forget," he said. "They're going to be 65 years old someday, but they're not going to forget what they went through."
"They're not going to forget who their drill sergeant was," he said. "They're not going to forget the service they gave to their country. And, most of all, they're not going to forget the people they served with."
During their visit, the veterans met with the battalion leadership, had lunch at the dining facility and toured some of the training sites.
"It's interesting. This is completely different from the type of training we got," said Tim Brinkley, who traveled from Iowa to attend the reunion, after observing training at the Team Development Course.
Brinkley explained that the teamwork aspect was not a big emphasis during his Basic Combat Training experience and that he was impressed with today's Army instilling team spirit early.
During a presentation at the battalion headquarters, one of the veterans received a special surprise. Wayne Blessing, who served as a drill sergeant on Fort Jackson in 1970, was presented with a campaign hat by battalion Command Sgt. Maj. Lamont Christian. Blessing had lost his campaign hats after his wife, a teacher, had used them as props for a class.
"She was supposed to bring them back. That was 20 years ago. I have no idea what happened to them," Blessing said. "I'm just overjoyed."
First Lt. William Kuhlman, the battalion's personnel officer said his generation of Soldiers can learn humility from the veterans.
"Not one of those veterans came in here and said, 'I did this and I did that.' They introduced themselves very humbly," Kuhlman said.