ATLANTA -- The Rock of the Marne met the Georgia General Assembly pm Monday as state lawmakers read a resolution on the House floor proclaiming March 9 as Third Infantry Division Day.
Along the way, House members heard from deployed 3rdID Commander Major Gen. Mike Murray, who is in Afghanistan but spoke to legislators using Skype while Command Sgt. Major Christopher Gilpin sat beside him, the pair 7,000 miles away.
“The Marne Division is known as Georgia’s division,” Murray said. “And it’s a moniker we’re proud of. Ever since the division uncased its colors at Fort Stewart in 1996, the people of Georgia have provided our dogface soldiers a wonderful place to train, work and raise a family. Because of that dedication to our soldiers and their families, more than half the soldiers who leave the Army from Fort Stewart choose to stay in Georgia.”
That, Murray said, was “a testament to the high quality of life and wonderful opportunities available in the Coastal Georgia area.”
It was also due to support from state lawmakers, he said. “Thank you for what you continue to do each and every day for our soldiers, civilians and families,” Murray said.
Murray’s remarks, which included noting the division has 55 Medal of Honor winners and is the most deployed division in Army history, ended with the division’s slogan “Rock of the Marne” and a “hooah,” and prompted a lengthy ovation by legislators and those watching from the gallery that lasted nearly a minute.
The ovation was something special, Liberty County Commission Chairman Donald Lovette said.
“One of the proudest days of my life was the applause Gen. Murray and his sergeant major just got,” Lovette said. “That was a proud moment. That was an awesome moment. I’m just honored to be here.”
Lovette said lawmakers, who jockeyed for position to have photos taken with the soldiers, were getting a glimpse of something those who live near Fort Stewart already know.
“They get to see, and get a taste, if you will, of what we get to see and taste every day,” he said.
The resolution came at the behest of state Rep. Al Williams (D-Midway), who introduced several soldiers and local officials to House members. Liberty County's Chamber of Commerce and Convention & Visitors Bureau helped coordinate the effort. Before ending, Williams reminded lawmakers of the price the 3rd ID has paid by noting more than 468 trees have been planted on Warriors Walk on Fort Stewart to honor soldiers killed over the past 13 years.
“Keep them in your prayers,” Williams said. “And keep all our soldiers in your prayers, God bless.”
Among those from the 3rd ID who attended were Brig. Gen. James Blackburn, Task Force Marne commander, and Command Sergeant Major Stanley Varner; and Garrison Commander Col. Kevin Gregory and Garrison Command Sgt. Major Bruce Rock.
Also on hand was Capt. Jake Bitonel, 26, a Chinook pilot with one deployment under his belt who is now serving as BlackBurn’s aide.
“It’s a once in a lifetime kind of thing,” Bitonel said. “The biggest thing about this for me today, what means the most for me, is that the sacrifices of all the soldiers are recognized. Not just todays, but those from the past, when the 3rd ID got the name Rock of the Marne. It’s just really great to see there are people out there who care.”
In addition to Lovette, roughly 100 local leaders made the journey up to Atlanta, including Hinesville Mayor Jim Thomas, Bryan County Commission Chairman Jimmy Burnsed and Liberty County Board of Education Chairwoman Lily Baker.
Baker said she has two brothers who served and a brother-in-law who is retired military.
“To come up here and recognize service to our nation and people, it’s just an awesome feeling for me,” Baker said. “I can walk in a grocery store and see a soldier in uniform and I always tell them thank you, because the freedoms I enjoy, they dedicated their lives to that, and for that I’m grateful.”
Burnsed said he made the trip because of the impact Fort Stewart soldiers have on both the Coastal Empire and Bryan County.
“It was important for me personally to come up today because a number of soldiers reside in Bryan County and they’re an important part of our community,” he said. “And they make so many contributions to our community just by being citizens of our community.”
Thomas, a retired Green Beret, said this is the third time the House has honored the Division.
‘This really means a recognition of the value that the 3rd ID has to the nation and to our local community, both to Hinesville, Richmond Hill and all the areas combined,” he said. “It’s a great day.”
Article updated March 10.