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Troops talk, eat barbecue with veterans

3rd ID takes mission to VA hospital

POSTED: May 23, 2009 12:00 p.m.
Photo by Frenchi Jones/

Two 3rd Infantry Division soldiers dressed in World War II era uniforms exchange stories with Korean War veteran William Hernandez on Wednesday at Carl Vinson VA Medical Center in Dublin. Hernandez, 80, served 22 years in the Army.

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DUBLIN — Dublin-Command Sgt. Maj. Jesse Andrews solemnly looked down at the metal floor of the Blackhawk helicopter he was riding in Wednesday afternoon.
His usually hardened face became heavy with emotion as he shook his head back and forth in disbelief.
“You thinking about Potts?” Maj. Gen. Tony Cucolo asked.
Andrews, silent, nods his head.
“Yeah, it’s tough to see young guys in that condition,” Cucolo said.
Cucolo and Andrews were flying back to Fort Stewart after spending hours with disabled veterans at the Carl Vinson VA Medical Center in honor of Armed Forces Day.
The visit was prompted by local veterans’ organizations who volunteered to host a barbecue picnic for the soldiers.
It was the second trip for 3rd Infantry Division soldiers since the division’s band held a Christmas concert at the hospital last fall.
The band once again put in an appearance Wednesday, playing jazz, reggae and 1940s marching songs that brought some veterans to their feet. Those who couldn’t stand swayed their hands from their beds and seats. 
Moments before Andrews and Cucolo boarded the aircraft headed for Hinesville, they walked down the dimly lit hallways of the hospital, shaking frail hands, passing out coins and praising wheelchair and bedridden veterans of the Korean to Vietnam wars.
“We are your legacy. Thank you for serving. Thank you for what you did,” Cucolo said to countless injured, ailing and recovering soldiers.
As the two commanding officers made their rounds, a familiar face appeared in the hall.
Staff Sgt. Marvin Potts, 41, was visiting the hospital for an appointment. 
He heard his former drill sergeant, Andrews, and his division were on the property for a visit. 
“I saw the patch and I asked, ‘you guys from Fort Stewart’?” he said. “I just had to come and see them. [Andrews] is who trained me. That’s who I wanted to be like.”
Potts sat, his shaky hands grasped a wooden cane for support.
Cucolo knelt on one knee in front of him.
Andrews took a deep breath and wrapped an arm around the platoon scout he commanded during Operation Iraqi Freedom 1.
“I can’t believe this. This was truly unexpected,” Andrews said. “This guy right here trained multiple top gun platoons on every weapon system.  This guy held up a legacy.”
“A PT Stud,” Andrews told Cucolo.
In 2004, doctors discovered Potts’ B-12 was low. The condition caused memory loss and blood clots to form in his legs.
Now, the same legs he once used to outrun his platoon leader slowly walk the same halls as the veterans who came before him.
“It doesn’t matter,” Andrews said. “He is still a soldier, a 3rd Infantry Division soldier.”
“You call me anytime,” he told Potts. “If you want to come out to just talk and hang out with the Cav guys, just let me know. I mean it now. You call me if you need anything.”
The two embraced and Andrews and Cucolo continued on their mission, visiting with more than 100 disabled veterans living at the Dublin facility.
“This is what it’s all about,” Cucolo said. “I hope that this Memorial Day weekend is more than just cookouts, a day off and great sales. I hope that people pause and just give thanks that there are men and women who are willing to put on a uniform so that we can continue to see the ideals of America.”

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