By Sgt. Joshua A. Bowles, 706th Military Intelligence GroupDecember 5, 2013
The 707th Military Intelligence Battalion, 706th MI Group, Fort Gordon, Ga., sent a group of its Soldiers on a mentorship ride to Washington D.C., to take part in the welcoming of an Honor Flight of World War II and Korean War veterans at Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport, Sept. 28.
The event was part of the 707th MI Battalion's ongoing efforts to develop strong bonds within the unit, the local community and to encourage the growth and development of unit leaders.
The idea for the trip was to connect the 707th MI Battalion Soldiers with the history of their profession and to foster an appreciation for the rich heritage and responsibility of serving as a Soldier in the U.S. Army. The living history found in the World War II and Korean War veterans of the Honor Flight worked to remind the 707th MI Battalion members of the importance of their own service.
"I see a disconnect between Soldiers and what their service means," said Command Sgt. Maj. Louie R. Castillo II, the battalion's command sergeant major. "We tend to look at what we are doing as not as significant as what others are doing. To have a generation of people that you look up to, that you revere, acknowledge you with that same reverence speaks very loudly. You don't get that experience every day around here. The mentorship ride does that."
The707th MI Battalion Soldiers went to the airport to meet the Honor Flight after driving 563 miles from Fort Gordon and touring historic Gettysburg the previous day.
The Honor Flight Network is a non-profit organization which seeks to honor America's veterans for all their sacrifices. They transport senior veterans to Washington D.C., to visit and reflect at the memorials built in their honor.
The Soldiers were given boarding passes and taken through security to await the arrival of the plane carrying the veterans. They were wearing their dress uniforms to honor the veterans who had done so much for their country. As the plane arrived, a crowd of waiting passengers gathered to see what was going on. Two fire trucks greeted the plane by shooting jets of water over the plane like crossed swords.
The entire terminal broke out into applause as the veterans arrived and passed down the line of Soldiers waiting to shake their hands and greet them.
"The vets came off the plane and the crowd was clapping their hands and cheering," said Castillo. "As the vets went through the line and went over to the holding area the cheering kind of died down. When we started heading over there the crowd started clapping again. They started clapping for us."
Many of the 707th MI Battalion Soldiers were surprised to get the same applause the veterans received.
"You take for granted that you are one of those people," said Sgt. 1st Class David M. Deman, an operations noncommissioned officer with the 707th MI Battalion. "We come from that same storied history."
The Soldiers guided the veterans to their buses bound for the World War II Memorial and saluted them as they departed. After the veterans departed, the Soldiers loaded up into vans and drove to the memorial to join them.
"Having a chance to see the veterans and the emotions they had seeing their own monument, it was very moving," said Spc. Thomas J. Villien, a signals collection analyst with the 707th MI Battalion. "It reminded me of something I had lost sight of."
When the Soldiers went around to speak with the veterans, they found that it was easy to talk to them despite their age differences.
"It was an instant connection," said Spc. Joshua J. Rohr, a military intelligence systems maintainer with the 707th MI Battalion. "You didn't even have to explain yourself. You could tell just by the look in their eyes that they felt connected to you."
The experience of military service shared between the new and older generations made it easy to talk to one another.
"We are a part of one percent of our society who gets to serve," said Castillo. "These veterans are a very small percentage of our society. With one percent of our society able to serve today, how many people really relate to what they have to say? There is a natural connection there. There is a 60-year difference between you and that guy, but you can carry on a conversation. That thread of military service between all of us transcends time. It makes that connection easy."
The Soldiers spent several hours talking to the veterans at the World War II and Korean War memorials. They heard experiences ranging from a female lieutenant nurse who served in the Korean War, to one of the first Navy command master chiefs who served during World War II.
"They wanted to tell you what they experienced and they wanted to hear what you are experiencing now as a Soldier," said Deman. "They miss that brotherhood and that camaraderie that comes with being a Soldier, being with their other family. Sharing that with all those guys was really awesome."
The experience of meeting the World War II and Korean War veterans left a mark on all of the members of the 707th MI Battalion who went on the trip. It reminded them of the importance of their service and fueled their enthusiasm for being in the Army.
"We were asking just one more thing from the greatest generation - to put their fingerprints on our Soldiers," said Castillo.