Maj. Gen. Mike Murray, commander of the 3rd Infantry Division and Fort Stewart-Hunter Army Airfield, joined Hinesville Rotary Club members Tuesday for their weekly meeting.
He used the opportunity to update local business leaders about the Marne Division’s training and deployment schedule, as well as the Pentagon’s efforts to downsize the Army.
When he was introduced by George Holtzman, Murray received a standing ovation by everyone, including Mayor Jim Thomas and his wife Claudia; Col. Kirk Eggleston, Stewart-Hunter MEDDAC commander; Sheriff Steven Sikes, Dr. Linda Bleicken, president of Armstrong State University; George and Babs Holtzman and Murray’s wife Jane.
Holtzman said the general had asked to be introduced as "Jane’s husband and grandpa of five." When he began his remarks, Murray added they were expecting their sixth grandchild. He then joked that it was easy to remember his wedding anniversary because he graduated from Ohio State University that morning, was commission as a second lieutenant that afternoon, married his wife that evening then went on active duty the next morning.
Murray told Rotarians he had just taken part in a dedication ceremony for the 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team’s fitness center, now named for Pfc. Charles R. Johnson. Johnson was killed 61 years ago in the Korean War during the battle for Observation Point Harry. Murray said the event was attended by Johnson’s sister, Dr. Juanita Johnson Mendez, and two soldiers who’d served with Johnson on OP Harry, David Mills, who was taken as a prisoner of war on the first day of the battle, and Don Dingee, whose life Johnson saved before losing his own. Johnson, Mills and Dingee were members of the 15th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Infantry Division, he said.
The first update the general gave was progress toward replacing the eastern redbud trees at Warriors Walk. He said the trees along 6th Street have already been removed and will soon be replaced with white crape myrtles.
"We chose the white crape myrtle because it grows well here in Georgia," Murray said. "I chose white because it represents the sanctity of the sacrifice made by these soldiers."
He said the trees will all be replaced in time for the Wreaths for Warriors Walk ceremony in early December, which may be preceded by a special ceremony for the original eastern redbuds trees.
He told Rotarians the 1st Armored Brigade Combat Team is on its way back from the National Training Center in Fort Irwin, Calif. and will soon deploy to Europe for six to nine months. He said that assignment, which would include joining with other National Atlantic Treaty Organization forces, is a response to what has been going on in Eastern Europe with the Ukrainians and Russians. The new assignment is also part of the Army’s realignment of forces, he said.
Murray said the 2nd ABCT’s deactivation continues on schedule with a colors casing ceremony planned for October 24. He said Gen. David Perkins, the Spartans’ former commander, will be there for that ceremony. The official inactivation date is January 15, 20 5, he said.
He said the 3rd Sustainment Brigade will soon deploy back to Afghanistan, and 49 soldiers with the 3rd ID headquarters will also soon deploy there. He added that 60 military policemen just returned from downrange. In all, he said 250 3rd ID soldiers are still deployed to Kuwait or Afghanistan.
"The bottom line is, it’s going to be a busy year for the 3rd Infantry Division," he said. "The good news is, our families aren’t going anywhere… We’re very proud to be part of this community."
Murray then turned his attention to what he called the "bad news," the downsizing of the Army. He talked about the Supplemental Programmatic Environmental Assessment for the Army’s 2020 force structure, noting that Thomas is planning to lead a group of local mayors to Washington, D.C. to talk with military and congressional leaders about the importance of Fort Stewart.
"As you know the Army is on its way to 490,000 by next October," Murray said. "The SPEA is what comes next… I’ll be frank and say that’s based on the budget, not strategic (planning)… If we go below 420,000, we’ll have the smallest Army since 1939… But that is the worst case scenario."
He said every installation in the Army is subject to lose up to 16,000 soldiers, though no one is actually expecting to lose that many soldiers. On the other hand, he said no one expects that any installation will be spared from the cuts.
Murray told them Army leaders will hold listening sessions with the community on November 24 at a location yet to be determined. He reminded the business leaders that although the economic impact – which is over $4.9 billion a year – is very important, Army leaders are going to look hardest at Fort Stewart’s strategic value to the Army and the nation’s defense.
"People often ask me what we can do to help," Murray said, noting that Fort Stewart has repeatedly been recognized by the Army as a Community of Excellence. "I say, ‘Keep on doing what you’re doing to support our soldiers and their families.’"
After concluding his remarks, Murray received yet another standing ovation. He and Jane were then personally thanked for their support of the community by Holtzman and Rotary President Brigitte Shanken.
In other business, members Craig Stafford and Robert Stokes were recognized as Paul Harris fellows. Shanken also asked members to get out and gain more sponsor support for their September 20 fishing tournament.