Many members of the community said their goodbyes to Maj. Gen. Robert and Connie Abrams on Wednesday during an evening social sponsored by the Liberty County Chamber of Commerce at Bryant Commons.
TheAbramses received hugs and well-wishes from government and business leaders, including representatives from the chamber, the Hinesville Downtown Development Authority, the Liberty Consolidated Planning Commission, Southeast Georgia Friends of Fort Stewart and Hunter, the Hinesville Rotary Club and the Hinesville Military Affairs Committee. Music was provided by 3rd Class Citizens.
Hinesville Mayor Jim Thomas; Army Reserve Ambassador for Georgia Lou Carreras; George Holtzman, owner of Coldwell Banker, Holtzman Realtors; Armstrong Atlantic State University’s Liberty Center Director Peter Hoffman; and former mayor Tom Ratcliffe were among the community leaders who personally said farewell to the outgoing 3rd Infantry Division commander.
U.S. Rep. Jack Kingston’s representative Brooke Childers, U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson’s representative Jared Downs and U.S. Sen. Saxby Chambliss’ representative Kathryn Murph attended the event, passing on the best wishes of the state’s leaders.
After guests mingled and snacked on heavy hors d’oeuvres for nearly an hour, chamber CEO Leah Poole asked Thomas and Abrams to say a few words.
“Maj. Gen. Abrams, I just want to say on behalf of the city of Hinesville that we couldn’t have asked for a better commander for our troops,” Thomas said after first soliciting a round of applause for the soldiers of the 3rd ID. “We couldn’t ask for a person who understands this city, first of all, and who cares for our soldiers, who’ve continued to do the same outstanding job they’ve always done. So, on behalf of the city and the city council, thank you very much.”
Abrams said he and his family enjoyed the more than two years they served at Fort Stewart and worked with the Hinesville and Liberty County community.
“It’s great to be back,” Abrams began. “I say that not only for me but for all the soldiers who’ve redeployed here over the last few months.”
He reviewed the circumstances at Fort Stewart at the time he took command of the Marne Division, which was not slated to deploy anywhere. He said the division was supposed to be resetting itself, preparing for future missions, wherever that might be. Then, the division headquarters was tapped to go to Iraq, but that deployment was canceled at almost the last minute. In November 2011, new orders came down from the Pentagon, he said.
“It started one unit after another,” Abrams said. “We were identified because we were trained — not for anything in particular — but the Army needed units for the fight in Afghanistan. So we started to deploy. By April 2012, the entire division was on some sort of deployment orders to Afghanistan. And the 3rd Brigade at Fort Benning was deployed to Kuwait.”
Abrams said the sudden deployments were a shock to 3rd ID soldiers and their families. He recognized that it also shook the community.
“My message here tonight is to tell you, mayor, and all these important people here in this room, thank you for your support,” he said, explaining that division commanders in other military communities don’t enjoy the same level of support. “We consider ourselves residents of this community. ... Our son went to high school here. ... Deployments wear and tear on communities. When it’s a programmed deployment, it’s one thing; when it’s unexpected, I know it’s tough on our neighbors ... but you have not wavered one second in your support of the 3rd Infantry Division.”
Abrams explained that his early return from Afghanistan was not part of his plan. He referred to his nomination for appointment to the rank of lieutenant general and new assignment as the senior military advisor to Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, then said it was obvious that he was not being fired. The room filled with laughter.
He said it’s never about what the soldier wants but what’s best for the Army. He said senior military leaders decided that they need him in Washington, and they need him next week.
Abrams concluded his remarks by saying he believed the Afghan army can win its fight with al-Qaida, noting that this is not something they’ve heard much about in the national news.
“The Afghans can win this,” he said. “Their military has the right numbers, the right leaders, the right level of competency and training, and they’re flat taking it to the enemy. What they need from us is our continued advice and our continued support.”