REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala. -- BRAC to the Future presented yet another opportunity for the leadership of the 59th Ordnance Brigade and its Ordnance Munitions and Electronics Maintenance School to say farewell to a community that will always hold a special place in the organization's history.

At a BRAC to the Future Community Conference luncheon honoring the 59th and its schoolhouse Friday, commander Col. Lee Merritt and Command Sgt. Maj. Angel Clark-Davis were presented with proclamations from Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle and Madison Mayor Paul Finley as well as the Alabama legislative delegation.

But those presentations came after Merritt took a few minutes to talk about the young Soldiers who have made Redstone Arsenal and Huntsville their "surrogate home" during the 58-year history of OMEMS.

During those years, there have been changes in the schoolhouse name, but not its mission. Since 1952, more than 250,000 Soldiers have been trained at OMEMS in 16 different military occupational specialties that "teach a brand new Soldier a military job," Merritt said. "The mission has been pretty much the same. We've always been focused on training the Soldier."

When OMEMS began, the town of Huntsville included 18,000 residents. That year, the schoolhouse graduated six Soldiers. Today, Huntsville is a city of 180,000 with a metro area of 400,000, and OMEMS graduates about 8,000 Soldiers a year.

"We have both grown up together," Merritt said. "Our Soldiers and mission represent the best our country has to offer. Our Soldiers have a special calling to defend the nation. This community has been a surrogate home to them, and that's because of the people here. They are warm and caring, and they love their military ... It comes from the heart."

Merritt recalled the Veterans Day parades, where the "spectators go nuts when we march by," and all the community programs that show appreciation for young Soldiers. He mentioned how young Soldiers have learned to give back while at Redstone, participating in such community programs as the Special Olympics and coaching Little League teams.

"The great community support is one thing I wish we could box up and send to Fort Lee, Virginia," he said.

Although that isn't possible, OMEMS will move 4,200 tons of equipment and 20 percent of its work force to Fort Lee, where Soldiers will be trained in state-of-the-art facilities and have access to 2,200 acres of training grounds.

"We are moving from buildings that were built in the 1950s and '60s," Merritt said. "Our new facilities will mean we will be able to train our Soldiers better."

It is a bittersweet farewell for an organization that will always remember the support of the Huntsville/Redstone Arsenal community.

"We've cased our colors, but we have not cased our sincere gratitude this community has showed us for the past 58 years," Merritt said.