Former and current Georgia Army National Guard veterans met for breakfast Feb. 28 at Michael’s Deli in Hinesville. Older soldiers shared war stories with younger soldiers, who had plenty of tales of their own, many having recently returned from Afghanistan. Wayne Stewart, a retired “citizen-soldier,” said local National Guard members have been meeting for breakfast, cookouts or fish fries at least once a month since 1987.
“We’re in our 26th year now for meetings,” said Stewart, who retired after 27 years with the Guard, both as a soldier and as a unit “technician,” a military civilian who works for the National Guard. “I enlisted in the Guard in 1956 and retired in 1983. I worked a total 27 years at the armory.”
Stewart, who retired as a chief warrant officer-3, said the responsibility for arranging and contacting everyone for monthly meetings fell on him after former colleague Talmage Groover died from a heart attack. He said it was Groover who came up with what he considers their motto: “Together we served; together we stand.” Although most of their meetings simply allow the soldiers to eat and enjoy fellowship, he said their mission essentially is to “be ready to serve, support, help, comfort and socialize.”
Typical attendance for a meeting is 15-20 current or former Guard members. At least that many or more showed up for last Thursday’s meeting, with at least half wearing Army duty uniforms. Stewart said most of the soldiers in uniform only recently returned from deployments to Afghanistan, including brigade Command Sgt. Maj. John Smiley. Stewart grinned as he proudly noted he had enlisted Smiley into the Guard more than 30 years ago.
“Yeah, I was enlisted by Mr. Stewart in 1981,” said Smiley, who then nodded toward an older, former soldier across the table from him. “(Alfred) Woods there was my first sergeant. I have a mechanical-maintenance background, but I’ve also been with the engineers and the infantry.”
Smiley said his brigade served in Kubal, Afghanistan from January through October 2012, where they maintained all the camps within what he called the “Kubal cluster.” He said his troops also mentored the Afghan security forces and worked with the tribal elders to show them how to improve their way of life. When he’s not in uniform, Smiley said he works as a maintenance supervisor on Fort Stewart.
“When you’re a citizen-soldier, you’ve usually already got a job,” Smiley said. “They say it’s one weekend of month, but it’s much more than that.”
First Sgt. Jimmy Horne agreed. Horne has deployed to Bosnia, Kuwait and Afghanistan and was activated to help during the Flint River flood in 1994 and Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Horne and 1st Sgt. Michael Flowers reiterated that everyone in uniform at the breakfast had just returned from a deployment or was preparing for deployment.
Their members included one World War II veteran, 94-year-old Roy Carter, who is a former National Guard member but not from their unit. He is nonetheless a good source for information about the Georgia National Guard, Stewart said. He then pointed out Ernest Greene, a retired lieutenant colonel and Stewart’s former commander.
“We got them from colonel to private,” Stewart said with a laugh as he looked around the dining room at the soldiers interacting and conjuring memories. “Of course, we don’t go by rank in this outfit.”
Stewart said a museum that will preserve their unit history, which goes back to 1788 and the original Liberty Independent Troop, will open soon at 100 Commerce St., the location of the old Manna House. They will share the building with the Hinesville Area Arts Council. The second floor will be renovated to allow them to move a growing collection of old photographs, uniforms and military equipment into the space.
Look for a follow-up article about the history of Hinesville’s citizen-soldiers in Friday’s Coastal Courier.