By Mitch Meador, Fort Sill TribuneJanuary 17, 2019
FORT SILL, Oklahoma (Jan. 17, 2019) -- The word of the day was "sesquicentennial," and Fort Sill Commanding General Wilson A. Shoffner seized the opportunity to create a teaching moment.
The occasion was a Founders Day retreat ceremony held Jan. 8, to celebrate the 150th anniversary of Fort Sill's birth.
The general gave the crowd a lesson in the meaning of the word and how to pronounce it.
"On behalf of the entire Fires Center of Excellence and Fort Sill, welcome to the first event of our annual experience of the Fort Sill 150th anniversary," he said. "This is the first of many events throughout the year in which we'll commemorate our sesquicentennial. Each month we will have a different event to commemorate our past and to look forward to our future. The theme here is 'Past and Future,' and we'll try to do both together."
Shoffner said it was fitting to have the ceremony on the Old Post Quadrangle, as most of the surrounding buildings in the Fort Sill National Historic Landmark went up within a few years after the first stake was pounded Jan. 8, 1869.
As part of the festivities, he led 150 Soldiers -- one for each year -- in reciting the oath of enlistment at a mass re-enlistment.
"Re-enlistment is an incredibly important event in our Army. It's how we build the backbone of the Army and the corps of noncommissioned officers that we have," the general said. "When a Soldier enlists, that Soldier makes a tremendous sacrifice for their country, but often does so without fully comprehending what that commitment will mean. When a Soldier re-enlists, he or she has by then experienced several years of serving and has had the time to reflect on what that means for them and their family.
"It's important to remember that Soldiers don't enlist alone. When they enlist, they're signing up an entire family to serve alongside them ...
"As many of you know, Fort Sill has gone through tremendous changes over the past 150 years, as we went from the frontier to a focus now on our future. In looking at the future, I will tell you I'm very excited," he said.
That's because of the Army's six modernization priorities. Fort Sill has two of the top five, long-range precision fires and air and missile defense capabilities.
"As you know, we are growing the air defense artillery and the field artillery force out across the Army, and we're also growing the training base at Fort Sill ... In addition to that, we also do basic combat training here and that organization has some potential to grow as well. The Army is just about to complete a longterm barracks project there that will give us additional capacity should the Army choose to grow the training base for basic combat training as well," Shoffner said.
"The other thing that's going on in the Army, and many of you are a part of it, but I do think it bears repeating, is an increased focus on improving readiness. And in fact, you're already seeing some changes due to that here at Fort Sill. As many of you know, the Army has recently opened up all positions to women, to include all positions in the field artillery and air defense artillery.
"We're now preparing to implement the new Army Combat Fitness Test. If you go around Fort Sill and look at our fitness centers and look at the unit areas where we conduct physical training, you'll see changes there as well. You'll see changes at Goldner Fitness Center, at Honeycutt, and you'll see new fitness venues going up in each of the brigade unit areas. You'll see additional healthy eating options, at the PX complex, in our dining facilities, at the commissary.
"If you go visit basic combat training, you'll notice that we're about to implement a new program of instruction. It's going to be harder. It's going to have an event at the end that we call 'The Crucible.' We'll have this crucible-like event that every Soldier has to go through to be able to graduate.
"Those changes are not unique to basic combat training. We'll be doing the same at advanced individual training. That's where we train our Soldiers who have just come out of basic training, before they go to their first unit of assignment. They'll be going through a reinvented program that involves more rigor. More rigor in terms of making sure that they are armed with the tools they need to do the jobs that they have to do, before they go out to do them.
"So my goal for our training here at Fort Sill is this: When a Soldier graduates their training and departs Fort Sill, they are ready to fight tonight, whether they're a private, a lieutenant, a warrant officer, a captain, it does not matter, they're ready to fight tonight. That's my responsibility. It's all of our responsibility, to make sure that the air defense and field artillery Soldiers who are proud to call themselves graduates of Fort Sill have the experiences and the expertise they need to be able to go out and lead our force for this nation.
"In conclusion, I will leave you this: The Fires Center of Excellence and Fort Sill creates the world's premier Fires force, ready to fight tonight, employ responsive cross-domain fires, win in a complex world, and return home safely. What we must do is foster a competitive mindset that enables victory in any operational environment. To achieve this, we've got to invest in every Soldier, family, and our community," Shoffner said.
The Fort Sill Gun Detachment recaptured a moment in time by firing off a ceremonial round from their Model 1841 6-pound field gun as Spc. Christian Luce, a bugler from the 77th Army Band, played "Retreat" and "To the Colors." Luce and the gun crew had on Civil War-era uniforms with an 1858 sack coat and a forage cap just like what Army Soldiers would have worn when teamster Johnny Murphy drove the first stake to mark off the quad.
Proclamations from Gov. Mary Fallin and U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, were read congratulating Fort Sill on the event.
After the ceremony, celebrants could go to a "Night at the Museum," where they would meet the first post commander, Col. Benjamin Grierson, as portrayed by Frank Siltman, Fort Sill's director of museum programs. They were also allowed to go behind the scenes to see Native American artifacts belonging to Quanah Parker and Geronimo as well as a fully-restored 1870s Cavalry Barracks.
Monica K. Guthrie with the Fort Sill Public Affairs Office is organizing what will now be a yearlong series of activities highlighting Fort Sill's 150 years of service to the nation. For starters, some of Fort Sill's Marines did some community work at Sullivan Village Elementary School, and 30th Air Defense Artillery Brigade Soldiers went to Eisenhower High School to help recruiters there.
A series of "Monday Movies" will be shown in February at Sheridan Theater. Portions of each film were shot on Fort Sill. Fort Sill media specialist Keith Pannell said the first will be "Daughter of Dawn," a 1920 silent feature film. The second will be "In the Army Now" starring comedian Pauly Shore, and the third a film about the Oklahoma National Guard preparing to go to Korea, called "The Thunderbirds."
In March the Fort Sill USO Center will partner with the post to put on a "Trivia Night" at the Jack Daniels Lounge inside the Patriot Club. Historical information will be posted on the Fort Sill website ahead of time.
Expect online "shout outs" from local and national celebrities throughout the year.
"Also, we have something called 'Fort Sill rocks,' which is kind of a play off 'Lawton rocks.' They'll take rocks and decorate them and hide them everywhere. So we've got a rock that we've hidden for January, and there'll be another one for February, and so on throughout the year," Guthrie said.