WASHINGTON, D.C. Two Soldiers from the 3rd Infantry Division accompanied Hinesville Mayor Jim Thomas and other community leaders to Washington, D.C. Feb. 23-26.

"(Major) General (Anthony) Cucolo (3rd ID commanding general) and I were talking and he said this was the Year of the (noncommissioned officer) and therefore we thought it would be a good gesture to take them along on our annual visit to Washington," said Thomas, who has been the mayor for 14 months. "Since it was the Year of the NCO, we wanted to show the Congressmen and Senators the type of people we have serving the United States of America."

The trip to D.C. fell in line with one of the three major initiatives that support the Year of the NCO: informing and educating the American people, Congress, and government institutions of the roles, responsibilities and the quality service of the NCO Corps.
Accompanying Thomas on his visit were Staff Sgt. Joshua Ridge, Battery B, 1st Battalion, 76th Field Artillery, 4th Brigade Combat Team, and Sgt. Michael Holbrook, Troop A, 3rd Squadron, 7th Cavalry Regiment, 2nd BCT.

During the visit the group met with Senators Saxby Chambliss and Johnny Isakson, Congressmen Jack Kingston and John Barrow, and visited the Installation Management Command Headquarters; Army Corps of Engineers Small Business; Department of Agriculture; U.S. Interagency on Homelessness and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation.

"I think the highlights simply were having (the Georgia delegation) recognize the presence of our Soldiers and have them ask them questions about what they thought about the Army and what they thought about the (upcoming) growth in the Hinesville community," said Thomas.

During the visit, the Soldiers discussed the availability of housing on post and in the Hinesville community, as well as the traffic situation entering and exiting post.

"I feel that the trip was extremely worthwhile due to the fact that the mayor's main focus was on the entry ways to Fort Stewart being widened in certain areas, and our opinions were from the actual experience of entering and exiting the post during times of heavy traffic," said Holbrook, who is the 3rd ID Soldier of the Year for 2008. "I believe that our input assisted in putting the plan in motion, because the Congressmen and Senators actually asked for our personal opinions, and we answered honestly that it was difficult to make it on and off post during the 'rush' hours."

Also, with a new brigade coming in, Thomas said he expects the community to grow by at least 20 percent, which will only increase the current traffic problem and the need for additional housing in the area.

If there isn't enough decent housing in the area when a unit gets ready to deploy, Soldiers' family members may be inclined to leave the area, said Ridge, who is a native of Lake City, Ark., and the 3rd Inf. Div. NCO of the Year for 2008.

"I think if they don't create a mass of single-family housing before Soldiers deploy, the Families will leave," said four-year Army veteran, Ridge. "I'm not going to leave my Family back in Hinesville in a trailer park when they could be in a decent home someplace else ... and that would end up bringing the economy down in the Hinesville area if the Families leave."

Thomas said that having the Soldiers speak about the housing situation made it more credible than if he would have gone alone.

"They spoke about the housing situation and how it affects Soldiers, their performance, and their families." said Thomas. "The NCOs accentuated our presence in Washington. The people that they met were very receptive to them and they were very impressed by the way (the Soldiers) handled themselves."

In addition to talking about the housing and traffic concerns, the Soldiers also got to see first-hand how their government worked.

"Meeting with the Senators and Congressmen from Georgia was something that I really never thought of myself as doing. It was an amazing experience," said Holbrook, a 24-year-old native of Federal Way, Wash. "Sitting in and listening to them going over with the mayor and the mayor's entourage about their plans for Hinesville and Fort Stewart was amazing."

"They had a chance to see their government in action," said Thomas. "They had a chance to really see how different agencies support and help the communities and the Army. Generally, most young NCOs never get to see how their government at that level works. It was a great opportunity for them and they took advantage of the opportunity."