Shortly before a ceremony Aug. 17, welcoming Col. Andrew Hilmes as the 3rd Infantry Division’s new deputy commander for maneuver, he and three other senior officers sat down with local media representatives to discuss unit priorities following the recent deployment of some soldiers to Afghanistan.
There followed discussion on training and readiness. Canned answers to canned questions.
But then, the officers – colonels all – were asked to talk about themselves a bit, and why they serve.
Of the four, three are military brats whose parents and family members served.
That’s fairly common in today’s Army, said Col. Michelle Munroe, commander of Winn Army Community Hospital.
“That’s what we see is common in people who decide to serve,” she said. “They have family members somewhere who decided to serve, and very few who come in the military who don’t have that legacy.”
Munroe noted her father, grandfather and uncles served in the military dating back to World War II.
“I’m the only officer and the only one who chose the Army, but growing up in a military family, I learned there’s a camaraderie and a culture that I don’t think you can find on the outside,” she said.
That culture is one of trust, Munroe said, saying she trusted the officer next to her at Friday’s roundtable to come to her aid if necessary, much like her Navy veteran uncle would help her “at a moment’s notice” if she needed him.
“Our military family does that for one another every day,” Munroe said. “The military is my family.”
Col. Scott O’Neal, commander of the 2nd Brigade Armored Combat Team, said his father and both grandfathers served. He called the military “the family business.”
“I grew up in the environment. It’s unique, especially when you think about what it means to serve other people,” O’Neal said, adding many who enter the Army initially see it as just a job.
“Then it becomes a profession, and then at a certain point in a career, and it varies for everybody, it becomes a passion,” he said. “It becomes ‘how can I help other people.’ I find when I talk to soldiers about what they enjoy most, especially mid-to-upper level leaders, it’s ‘what they can do for other people.’”
And by extension, the places soldiers are stationed become homes, O’Neal said. He graduated from Bradwell Institute when his father was stationed at Fort Stewart. O’Neal’s son graduated from BI in May, and he’s got another child set to graduate from the school soon.
“Not only has the Army become a family, but the community you’re in becomes a home you never had when you’re living like a vagabond.”
Hilmes, who during his speech at Friday’s reception credited hearing his brothers’ tales of being stationed on the border in Germany across from Soviet troops during the Cold War with having an impact on his decision to serve, said his father was a career officer who spent 33 years in uniform.
“I was also inspired by older brothers who served in the Army Air Corps during World War II,” he said. “I’m the youngest of four boys, and three of us made a career out of the Army. But as a military brat, living all over the world, watching my father in his service, he was invested in something much bigger than himself, and that was a big impression. It’s why I decided to make the Army a career and start my service, but just like Michelle and Scott, over the 23 years I’ve been in, it’s the camaraderie and the esprit de corps. I don’t think there’s much else like it.”
Unlike the other three officers at the briefing, Col. Marcus Evans, the 3rd ID’s deputy commander for support, wasn’t an Army brat but heard stories of service while in college and decided it was something he’d like to do.
“I took off down to the ROTC department and told them to sign me up,” Evans said.
Over time, “the aspect of servant leadership, and being part of something bigger than yourself, is important,” he said. “That’s something organizations all share in that aspect, but I think with soldiers, it’s true that we’re all in this together. For me, personally, it’s the camaraderie and the sense of shared hardship, and the privilege of being able to lead in an organization like the Army at this present time in history, and in a historic division like the 3rd ID. That’s something very special, and it’s special because of the people sitting here at the table and those in the division, and the sacrifices that they and their families make. Most importantly, we’re serving on behalf of our nation.”
Hilmes called the Army “the nation’s treasure.”
“It reflects everybody in our society, and it’s an incredible way to make something of yourself,” he said. “It inspires me all the time, the soldiers I come in contact with.”