By Spc. Emily Knitter, 1HBCT Public AffairsSeptember 15, 2011
FORT STEWART, Ga. - Before the Civil War, brick forts like [Fort Pulaski] were the most common defense against overseas enemies. The design was known throughout the world to be able to withstand almost anything- until the invention of the rifle cannon.
Then, in one battle, as Union Soldiers fired this new weapon from a mile away on Tybee Island, they destroyed an entire wall of the fort and almost hit the armory. As the Confederates surrendered, the repercussion was felt world-wide, as every similar fort went from being virtually impenetrable to completely obsolete.
Today, Fort Pulaski is a national monument commemorating the significance of that battle, and its effect on the history of the United States. Run by the National Park Service, the fort offers daily tours and musket firings, and weekly cannon firings.
That is all information Sgt. Wayne Rogers is able to recite from memory, and that's just the tip of it.
Sergeant Rogers, a company operations noncommissioned officer with Co. B, 3rd Brigade Special Troops Battalion, 1st Heavy Brigade Combat Team, volunteers two Saturdays a month at Fort Pulaski. Dressing up in colonial-era garb, he helps answer guest questions as they explore the history within the park and he assists in the weekly cannon firings.
"This is the first fort I have volunteered at," he said. "I've always wanted to, but with Iraq and being overseas I never could."
His interest in national parks began as a child. "The first park I ever went to was Gettysburg," he explained. "Every summer from when I was seven till I was 15, my grandfather would take us out there and it stuck. I've always liked the Civil War, so Pulaski was the obvious choice for me to volunteer at because it would always keep my interest."
So after visiting the park, located between Tybee Island and Savannah a few times and talking to his wife, Sgt. Rogers filled out the paperwork and two weeks later was driving to the park no longer as a visitor, but to learn how to re-enact a Civil War Soldier.
At first, it wasn't exactly what he had imagined.
"They had me work the feed booth, which I hated," he said with a good natured smile. "It was good to learn it, because I want to learn everything, but I hated it. I told them, if I don't have to, please don't make me, but if it's one of those, 'we absolutely need you down there,' I'll do it."
After paying his dues in the small building, collecting admission into the park, Sgt. Rogers received a promotion of sorts. Although his right hand is in a blue cast, he was put on the cannon demonstrations.
"There's one position I can do [with my broken hand]. I'm the ammo runner. I grab the round, run it back out to the gunner, the gunner takes it, and then I go back to my position. It's basically the easiest job. You really only need one hand," he said, grinning.
Fort Pulaski is home to the nation's largest fully functional reproduction cannon. Trying to learn all there is to learn about the cannons and the park, Sgt. Rogers has his sights set just one small step at a time.
"I told [the other employees], 'Ahh, I just want to pull the lanyard!' And they just dismiss it, saying there's nothing to it. Well they've done it; I want to be that guy!"
But as Sgt. Rogers works towards pulling the lanyard, the cord which actually fires the cannon during the demonstrations, life outside the Army is also looming toward him. In the process of being medically discharged, he had to start thinking seriously about what the next step in his life will be. The answer is going to be an easy transition, he hopes.
"Volunteering at a national monument such as Fort Pulaski is a great reference if I'm trying to work at a park permanently," Sgt. Rogers said. "I'm from Philly, so if I wanted to work at Independence Hall or Valley Forge- Gettysburg, which are considered the big parks, working at a small park like this, I get picked up like that," he says, snapping his fingers. "Because like for us in the Army, there are privileged duty stations, and that's kind of like how these small parks are. You've got to work your way through the big ones to get these little ones."