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Pat Donahue: As change is constant, so is community’s support of base
Patrick Donahue
Patrick Donahue, Editor & General Manager

Patrick Donahue, Editor & General Manager.

Change is a constant, especially this time of year. Thousands of soldiers depart the base, some for another post, some for a new life as a civilian. Thousands come in to replace them, some for the first time in southeast Georgia, some brought back by the auspices of the Army.

The newest commander of our 3rd Infantry Division — and he’ll soon find out just how much ownership the local community takes of it — has been well traveled. Maj. Gen. Christopher Norrie’s previous stops have taken him to Forts Carson, Bliss, Hood (now Cavazos), Riley and Irwin, posts with lots of room for tanks and Bradleys and artillery.

But they’re no match for Fort Stewart.

Our community has said its goodbye to another division commander, Maj. Gen. Charles Costanza, who now awaits official word on his next duty assignment. Since he is a former 3rd ID commander, you can bet it’s going to be a plum job in the Army. Being the leader at Fort Stewart has been a big stepping stone over the last 50 years, when the then 24th Infantry Division planted its flag on the vast installation. (If memory serves, the first unit in was the Rangers, and they parachuted in. Has it really been almost 50 years?)

Maj. Gen. Costanza — and there’s no telling how many Seinfeld jokes he’s had to endure over the years — came across as an affable, personable and down-to-earth leader.

In the last two years, the division has undergone two significant deployments, with the 1st Brigade getting sent first to the Korean Peninsula and then getting dispatched in short order to Central Europe as a show of force against Russia.

Their brethren in the Spartan Brigade, the 2nd Armored Brigade Combat Team, have been putting some of the Army’s latest vehicles and gear to the test. And they soon will be headed across the Atlantic to take up duty stations for months and train with NATO partners. The Raiders will get their chance to break in new vehicles and equipment, and Fort Stewart’s expansive ranges will come to life with the noise of their new Abrams, Bradleys, Paladins and mortars being put to use.

The change of command ceremony was shorter than most — there was no review of the gathered soldiers by the contingent of generals. One aspect that was touched on, but hopefully has been pressed upon Maj. Gen. Norrie, is the close connection between the base and the civilian community. We hear it so many times from those who are leaving for another post. While they don’t want to demean or diminish the bond between any other bases and the surrounding civilian populace, there truly isn’t anything like the Coastal Empire’s embracing of the post, literally and metaphorically, and its soldiers and families.

It’s been refrain for a long time now, as commander after another speaks openly on the investment the civilian workforce has in the post and the reception soldiers and their families get from the communities on the other side of the boundary.

The days of “at least it’s not Fort Polk” are a distant memory when talking of Fort Stewart. Oh, the humidity and the gnats are still brutal for months at a time, but there are reasons why the Army had to pull Fort Stewart out of the competition for being named the Army Community of Excellence. You win too much, and that’s what happens.

A handful of former 3rd ID commanders were on hand for the ceremony, keeping a connection to a unit many of them led on combat deployments and to a base that made their missions possible and successful.

The Army did the right thing some years ago when it put five to six years between permanent changes of station for most soldiers and their families.

I grew up an Army brat but it was different for us. We moved two blocks in 13 years, from Clay to right near the end of Bundy. But so many others of our friends and neighbors moved a half dozen times or more in the same span. And for senior officers and some senior NCOs, this is still just a short stint.

Unfortunately for the new commanding general, he’ll spend nearly half of it half a world away. We hope his family gets a chance to understand what makes a posting at Fort Stewart now such a great spot to be.

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