25 September 2014

Bringing History and Heritage Back to Units

While driving on post the other day, I was met by a soldier manning a checkpoint. There was a CAC card reader near the soldier’s position. As I have done countless times before I swiped my card and the soldier was notified, via his terminal, that I am an officer. As I drove by the soldier was sitting on his stool and halfheartedly saluted. This left a bad impression on me. Why would a soldier conduct themselves in such a way? I am sure he was trained on military customs but where? Is Basic Combat Training the only place where formal military customs and courtesies are reinforced? Maybe units continue this or they may view that this is best left to the NCO Education System.

I have always noticed that the Marines have a very high sense of esprit de corps. They make a very deliberate effort to maintain the history of not only the Marines but that of the unit. One example of this is the new members of the 5th Marine Regiment being awarded the French Fourragere at Camp San Mateo. There is a formal process in which new Marines are given the award. The newest members of the 5th Marines learn of their unit’s role in WWI and why they were awarded such an honor. This is just one small way to ensure unit history is not lost with the replacement of those in that unit with newer Marines.

In the Army I have yet to see or hear of such an event taking place. In my first unit, we had the French Fourragere but I was simply told to go to Clothing & Sales and buy the green cord. I didn’t think much of it but just another thing I have had to buy for my uniform. I had no clue how my unit received this award or of the sacrifices of those who came before me. This may not be case for all Army units, as some of the more well-known divisions in the Army actively reinforce their history. Also there are events in which the Army maintains their history such as the NCO induction ceremony. In addition, there are units such as the 30th ABCT, formally the 30th ID, which have annual reunions so that current members can interact with its former soldiers that have served as far back as WWII. Yet another would be the Ranger Rendezvous.

I spoke to a prior Marine who is now in the National Guard, and I was surprised that the Marines also instituted a history program in which they are tested. Within this program Marines are also taught recent history such as the Battle of Fallujah in Iraq and the Battles of Sangin and Marjah in Afghanistan while in Boot Camp with the expectation of maintaining such knowledge. Wouldn’t all soldiers, even all service members, benefit from learning more history behind their units? It would instill more respect and pride in their service.

With history we learn of the past. We learn of the feats of those that gave so much for us. We take pride in what we represent. When a soldier looks at his unit patch as a mark of distinction instead of just another patch you will find a soldier that is committed to his unit, the Army and to his country.

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*These opinions belong to the writer and in no way reflect the views of the DoD or other departments of the US government.

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