When construction began Wednesday at the site of the Veterans Memorial Walk, future veterans were there to start the groundwork.
Soldiers from Fort Stewart’s 92nd Engineer Battalion started their first day at the Bryant Commons location by clearing debris from the site.
"The primary reason that we’re out here is to clear the vegetation and prepare the grounds and get it to the correct grade in order for the follow-on contractors to lay the sidewalks and put in the actual memorials," said Capt. Ian Riley, commander of 526th Horizontal Engineer Company, 92nd Engineer Battalion. "So we’re doing all the preparatory work that will set the foundation for that final product to be put in."
The engineers are expected to be working at the site until June 2017, according to Riley. The primary mission of the 526th Horizontal Engineer Company is to build everything from roads and airfields to fighting positions and forward operating bases, he said.
"So this particular type of work is slightly different than what we normally do, but it does fall in line with the tasks that we’re required to do to train on for overseas operations," he said. "It’s a great opportunity for us to exercise those training tasks and at the same time give back to the community."
The work the soldiers will be doing for the memorial falls under what the Army calls "Innovative Readiness Training."
That’s "an opportunity for civilian outreach that allows a civilian agency to request assistance from a military source," Riley said. "And as long as the conditions are met to proceed with that, then it’s mutually beneficial."
"It’s been about a two-year process getting to this point and so we’re really excited to break ground and carry out the project," Riley added.
As noon approached, the soldiers were treated to a buffet lunch donated by Zaxby’s and then members of the memorial board spoke about their efforts to turn the project into a reality.
The Veterans Memorial Walk is estimated to cost $1 million, with $247,000 already raised. The work contributed by the soldiers is worth $200,000, according to George Holtzman, co-chairman of the Veterans Memorial Walk board.
The memorial’s board is hoping to raise the remaining $400,000 to complete the project, according to Holtzman, who along with his wife Babs recently donated $50,000. He hopes that all of the money for the project will be pledged before March 2017 and then the memorial dedicated in November 2017.
The addition of the veterans’ memorial at Bryant Commons is a big step for the park, according to Hinesville Mayor Allen Brown.
Seeing the soldiers start to clear the area for the memorial is "like waking up as a kid to Christmas morning and seeing all the gifts underneath the Christmas tree," Holtzman said. "It’s really that element of excitement that you’ve been geared up for."
"Seeing all this come to fruition, I mean it just it makes your heart really flutter. I’m very grateful and happy that it’s happening," he added.
Holtzman said the biggest change to the site that visitors to Bryant Commons will see is the excavation of a new lake at which will be located a monument honoring prisoners of war and those missing in action.
"I think it’s a really big take away for the soldiers to have a physical product that they can look back on and reflect to see what they have done," said Riley. "Not just for the community … but for the veterans. As far as projects go, this has got to be the top shelf for our soldiers."