Ft. Stewart, Georgia. Home of the
“Mighty Third Infantry, Rock of the Marne.”
Monica is the wife of Sgt. Kevin Benderman, a ten-year Army veteran who served a combat tour in Iraq and a year in prison for his public protest of war.
On Keeping Men Alive
Ft. Stewart, Georgia.
Home of the “Mighty Third Infantry, Rock of the Marne.”
always find it interesting as I drive through the gate onto post.
As the contracted gate guards check my ID and verify the registration on my
car, they give a subtle smile, a military signal to move-out, and call out
“Rock of the Marne” just before I drive
Third Infantry Division has a proud heritage. Originally activated in
1917, just 8 months later its soldiers found themselves sent to combat in France
distinguishing themselves as the only division not to retreat at what became
known as the “Battle of the Marne.”
German soldiers later nicknamed the division the “Rock of the Marne” for having
stood like a rock along the banks of the Marne
River when all others
retreated in the face of an enemy onslaught finally overcome by the Third
inside the gate visitors are drawn to an imposing display of mechanized vehicles
of the Mighty Third Infantry soldiers; the Bradley fighting vehicle, a Paladin
artillery vehicle, and an Abrams tank, with a Cobra helicopter positioned above
them all, symbols of power in a world where that sort of power is deemed
necessary for control these days.
the far side of the grassy field behind the massive display of weaponry is a
small outdoor theater of seats where units gather for award ceremonies and
such. At the center of the theater is Rocky, the Disney-created bulldog
figure standing strong as the mascot for the “dog-faced soldiers” who are the
Third Infantry. The word on post is that when Rocky was first unveiled it
was in full male splendor. Unfortunately the commanding general’s wife at
the time didn’t take too kindly to the natural display of testosterone and
promptly demanded that Rocky be neutered. A welding unit complied with
the order and Rocky was allowed to stand, although perhaps not quite so
proudly, his smile a little more sheepish.
morning that soldiers are not deployed, the sound of the “Dog-Faced Soldier”
fight song echoes across post as the units form for 6 am PT (physical training)
and the sun slowly rises over the horizon.
“I’m just a dog-faced soldier
With a rifle on my shoulder
And I eat raw meat for breakfast every day
behind Rocky’s theater stands the new headquarters building for the Third
Infantry. It is an imposing structure with iambic columns, marble trim
surrounding three stories of brick and windows stretching the length of a
football field all capped off with a bright green metal roof.
Construction crews have been working for over a year on a headquarters building
which dwarfs the one it is replacing; a World War II era design of
clapboard and shake now hiding in the Georgia pines amazingly left standing as
its replacement takes shape.
far beyond that is yet another building still under construction, the one which
causes me to think more than any others about war, peace and the consequences
of being a dog-faced soldier upholding the “Rock of the Marne” image in a world
where power should be derived from those able to restrain themselves the
longest before pulling out the biggest guns, but where the guns are now poised
to destroy any hope for peace when the foundations so carefully laid by past
generations are crumbled in an instant for the greed of a leadership putting
materials before humanity, illusion over substance, death over life,
designating medals of burnished gold to exaggerate the honor.
enormous brick box, with few windows and another bright green metal roof, its
one distinguishing aspect is the pristine white steeple pointing sharply to the
sky like a lightning rod beckoning the presence of a higher power to grant redemption
and instant healing for questioning soldiers looking for answers when the
haunting ghosts of the reality of war come creeping into their consciousness
unwilling to be denied. Is that the answer; a building, a steeple and a
a half mile down the road is Warrior Walk – 320 Redbud trees serve as a living
memorial to this war’s contribution of over 300 honorable dog-faced soldiers
who have now given their lives in combat. Seeming testimony to the fact
that the sacrifice of the 35,000 dog-faced soldiers who had died before, lost
its meaning on the day our leaders lost their courage, and neutered their souls
by believing it was the strength of war machines that could give them true
power over those who only wielded swords.
a few short months ago the command at Ft.
Stewart announced the
grand opening of “Rocky’s” night club. What had once been a family sports
center now became a full-fledged bar established on post to give soldiers a
safe environment in which to drink their troubles away when the prayers didn’t
work and the steeple lost its power.
regulations for visitation for non-military personnel were relaxed when the sun
went down and Rocky’s opened, and on-post privileges no longer required a stop
at the visitor’s access building as long as cars were licensed, drivers were
licensed and heading to Rocky’s for a drink and more. To commanders,
there was no point in giving soldiers a place on post to drink if there were no
girls at the bar – so the bar was opened, the rules relaxed and I wonder how
many notice the steeple as they drive on past neutered Rocky standing a little
less proudly on guard before the behemoth of office space replacing the once
commanding headquarters for the division that had refused to back down from its
stand at the banks of the Marne.
before driving out of the back gate onto the road leading through the training
grounds of the Mighty Third stands a flashing neon sign proudly announcing “185
days since our last driving fatality.”
training grounds of Ft.
Stewart belie their true
purpose. Rifle and artillery ranges are carefully hidden behind walls of
pines. For every road marked “off limits to civilians” there is another
marked “landing area” leading to the peaceful banks of a slow moving river full
of catfish, bream and wildlife safe in the refuges acting as barriers to the
real purpose of the land. On almost every red-clay dirt road is a
marker pointing to a cemetery lined with protective fencing, dating to the
early 1800’s or sooner; the only remaining testimony to the small civilian
towns devoured by the progress of a warring nation.
mile down the road in a cutaway that once was forest, is the first billboard of
almost thirty ordered erected by the installation command.
the clearing before the sign I pull off of the roadway and turn off the
lights. A small herd of deer feed in the moonlight, just near
enough to the safety of the trees to scamper quickly if someone approaches too
closely. The stars overhead seem to go on forever in the darkness and
somewhere a giant owl calls out – wisdom from nature wondering when we will
glanced up at the boldly lettered sign:
Drink and Drive, We Want Our Soldiers Alive.”
spending millions of dollars on a new headquarters for our military machine and
millions more on a building with a steeple whose purpose is to help with the
aftermath of the destruction that military machine creates.
training ground for the “dog-faced soldiers” lies in the middle of a wildlife
sanctuary lined with over 100 cemeteries memorializing a time when communities
lived where Abrams tanks now patrol.
more soldiers died in combat today.
nightclub is in full swing, and a neutered cartoon dog stands with his weapon
at attention guarding the gates to the home of the Rock of the Marne.
Drink and Drive, We Want Our Soldiers Alive. “
days since our last driving fatality.”
hours since a soldier died in a war for which there was no need.
Monica is the wife of Sgt. Kevin Benderman, a
ten-year Army veteran who served a combat tour in Iraq and a year in prison for
his public protest of war and the destruction it causes to civilians and to
American military personnel. Please visit their website, www.BendermanDefense.org