The Hancock-Henderson Quill, Inc.

Treasure In The Heartland

By David Conard, The Quill

Fighting Soldiers From The Sky

It was Friday morning on the 26th of March, 2010, that I waited for the ceremonies to begin for the graduation of the most recent group of soldiers to complete Airborne training at Ft. Benning, Georgia.

While I stood there, I could not help but be touched with a flood of memories this place brought to me after almost thirty years when I had last been assigned there. Ft. Benning had been my home in one way or another, for more than a dozen years.

Now, a new event was soon to be another special memory, as my youngest son Sargeant David B. Conard would be the third generation Conard to serve or train on "Benning."

The parade ground was in front of the Airborne Memorial and along side a display of a WW11 C47 twin engine tail dragger airplane. And beyond the parade field, were three 250 ft jump towers, one of which I had memories of climbing to the top of to hang a large banner as a military class prank.

A Co. 1st of the 507th had been formed up well off to the right of the spectators, but not so far that we couldn't all hear the marching commands given to begin the ceremony.

380 soldiers can make a sound that can not help but effect anyone that hears them. That many soldiers doing anything together, can not help but be powerful enough to touch all within sight or sound.

Marching cadence, inspired by the pride these soldiers felt, was like a church filled with joyful singers. It sounded like no one was holding back, as they marched into position in front of the reviewing stand. The four platoons did a left face, and then open ranks. The marching was over for now, and the talking and recognition time would begin.

What impressed me immediately was the caliber of the dignitaries present. This event was obviously something taken very seriously judging by a Two Star General taking time from a very important day to salute these troops-one more class of a never ending column of soldiers, each one made as important as the first.

Most folks don't know, unless they have served in the military, just how significant the rank of Command Sergeant Major is. Respect is the first thought any top military NCO demands, just by his presence. More than most any other soldier, the person that wears the rank of Command Sergeant Major, is the top enlisted soldier in every command.

For this graduation, the speaker would be a CSM with a record that includes a stack of accomplishments and experiences that would make most mortal men stand back in awe.

I would doubt that many graduates who heard the speech will remember many of the words. Inspirational words at graduations, because of their nature, all sound pretty much the same, but the gest of it all will be remembered by this particular graduation, because of who it was that took the time to say the words.

As the "wings" awarded were presented by family members. I looked around me and saw several hundred guests obviously experiencing the same pride as our respective soldiers graduated into the exclusive fraternity of Airborne.

Fathers all around me, could not hide the pride from their eyes as you could see them fill up with so much feeling, that a little could not help, on occasion, but leak out.

The 380 who were graduating Friday, had left behind almost 100 others who, for one reason or another, couldn't complete the program. To say that the training was hard is an understatement. I can't think of anything in the civilian world that might even come close to describing the physical requirements and the mental discipline it took for these "War Fighters" to have their wings awarded.

From the lowest rank Private to a Lieutenant Colonel, the whole class became one, for they shared a unique sense of accomplishment in getting to that first long step out that airplane door.

To me, the Treasure in the Heartland was the feeling many of us get when we see these soldiers and look at all as sons and daughters. This time, however, I was privileged to see a Sergeant who was more mine, than everyone else's.

"Close ranks!" was the command given, then "Right face!" then "Double time!" as 380 relieved proud soldiers ran off the field as one, concluding the ceremony for this day, but just a beginning for new boots in the sky.