Friends and family of Thomas D. Houston Jr. gathered with Fort Stewart officials Monday to dedicate the installation’s Engineer Qualification Area in his honor.
Houston, a prominent figure from Ludowici, served as a sergeant first class in the Georgia Army National Guard’s 101st Anti-Aircraft Artillery in Hinesville and as Fort Stewart’s engineering-and-plans division chief. He retired from civil service in 1995 and died in December 2012. Monday also happened to be his birthday.
On hand were his wife, Margaret Ann Houston, son, retired Lt. Col. Thomas Houston III, and other family members. Houston III called the event a tribute to a man who was as much a part of Fort Stewart as it was of him.
“He would be so proud,” Houston III said. “My father was a humble man. He would have wondered about this even though he played such a significant role at Fort Stewart for so many years.”
The EQA, which Houston built, gives engineer soldiers a range to train their craft. It includes areas to learn how to deactivate booby traps, sweep for mines, demolition lanes where explosives can be used, breach facilities and create obstacles with steel and trees.
“What I hope to see is that, being a soldier, is that engineer soldiers go to that range and see that monument (to his father),” Houston III said. “Even though they won’t get a chance to meet him they [can] sit there and ask themselves the question, ‘Who was this man and why was he so important that the Department of the Army and Fort Stewart have nominated to name a range for him?’”
Fort Stewart’s training-division chief Jim Pearson said Houston Jr. was an engineer to his core who loved soldiers.
“We could think of no better place to name after Tommy Houston than the engineer-qualifying course,” Pearson said.
The 3rd Infantry Division deputy commanding general for maneuver, Maj. Gen. Jim Blackburn Jr., said, “It is rare for a military facility to be dedicated for a retired military civilian, and it is even more rare when it’s a range facility.”
Blackburn also recounted several of the projects Houston Jr. was involved in, including building tank trails on Fort Stewart, traffic circles on those trails to teach soldiers how to maneuver and gunnery ranges.
“When you drive through this post and see the buildings and facilities, he is absolutely, in a way, still reporting for duty…” Blackburn said.
The dedication also was a chance to share stories about Houston Jr. When the 24th ID activated here, he helped find housing for thousands of soldiers moving in. Situations like that were the reason Houston Jr. was the “go-to guy” for solving problems on post, calling them “the crisis of the day,” Houston III said.
Humorous crises included a “haunting” that required a Forces Command chaplain to conduct an exorcism in a officer’s billet; uncovering a previously unknown cemetery while building a tank trail that the provost marshal then labeled as a crime scene, shutting down summer training for the Georgia National Guard; and getting air conditioning for all soldiers after a directive put air condition in the military working-dog kennels when only majors and above had been allowed air conditioning in their quarters.
The particular “crisis” that stuck with Houston III the most was when his father was finding a sealant for the showers that wouldn’t stick to the soldiers’ feet. Houston III was stationed at Fort Stewart at the time.
“I remember my first sergeant telling me there was this Andy-of-Mayberry looking dude who was going to fix the problem for the whole post,” he said. “At the time, I didn’t make the connection.”
A few days later, Houston III found his first sergeant and father testing various sealants for the shower.
“My father had many people who could have done this task,” he said. “But, because it intimately involved soldiers, he took it on as a personal responsibility. That vision of my first sergeant and father on their hands and knees on the shower floor is something I carried with me my entire life.”