The Statue of Liberty has served as a symbol of hope, perseverance, diversity, and freedom for millions of Americans since she arrived and was dedicated by President Grover Cleveland in 1886. For the 77th Sustainment Brigade, she has been their insignia and worn on their uniform since the unit was organized in 1917.
The lineage of the 77th Infantry Division began at Camp Upton in Yaphank, New York, in August 1917 after America declared war on Germany and the War Department determined that a force must be created using volunteers and draftees. By the end of the war over 4.8 million Americans, volunteers and draftees, were mobilized for the war effort.
The diversity of the 77th is the foundation of its success. Draftees, mostly from the New York City area, represented many different countries and cultures. They selected the statue as their symbol because she represented the freedom and prosperity they were all seeking when they, or their parents, arrived in America. Their nickname became the "Statue of Liberty Division."
Nelson King, a Soldier on his way to France to fight in the Great War, wrote his mother a letter and explained what the experience was like passing the statue from the deck of their ship.
"When we first got a glimpse of the Statue of Liberty (there was close to 2,000 men on board and every man on deck with his eye peeled) a cheer went out over the water and it seemed like the boat even came to attention. 'There's my sweet heart now' and then everyone sang My Country [tis] of Thee and I'll tell you Mother there isn't another spot in the whole world like this one and you'll never realize it until you've seen it for yourself."
The lineage of the 77th Infantry Division was passed to the now deployed 77th Sustainment Brigade. The 9-foot replica statue, made of steel and weighing an approximate 240 pounds, travels with the Soldiers of the 77th no matter where they are.
"It's more than just a patch and it's more than just a statue," said Sgt. First Class Mark Keevan, the force management noncommissioned officer in charge of the 77th Sustainment Brigade. "The statue represents everything that makes us Americans, everything we believe in and everything we are fighting for."
Keevan was responsible for ensuring the proper placement of "Lady Liberty" upon her arrival to Kuwait. Additionally, Keevan will work over the next few months creating a base for her that he boasts will rival the original.
"We had to find a place to put her that would ensure that everyone can see her and know that the 77th is here and we have things under control," said Keevan. "We have a responsibility to the Soldiers that went before us. They built a culture that uses diversity as a force, it's what differentiates us."
While it may have been a cumbersome task to wrap, box and ship a statue that big and heavy, the Soldiers of the 77th have a fondness and connection to Lady Liberty that often reminds them of home.
"I was walking to the operations center, it was late, I looked up and there she was, with her torch lit and everything," said Staff Sgt. Christopher Walker. "It's a reminder of home and a reminder of why we are here, why we leave our families, it's about freedom."
The light was crafted by a family member of one of the Soldiers in the unit. Prior to the deployment, a request went out to fix the flame that went missing after the statue returned from the last deployment to Iraq. After research and requests, an 83 year-old Smithsonian Museum retiree crafted a flame and lights to ensure she is seen no matter what time it is in Kuwait.
Like the warriors that went before them, Soldiers of the 77th Sustainment Brigade will continue to wear Lady Liberty on their arm to remind the world that hope, perseverance, diversity and freedom is worth fighting for.