The United States Army Garrison Fort Irwin command team of Col. Jon Braga and Command Sgt. Maj. Carlos Esmurria recently had the opportunity to interact with the post community, and welcome Veterans and members of the public from Southern California and beyond.
The highlight of this spring, undoubtedly, would have been the 50th Vietnam Veterans Commemoration Ceremony held here, April 18. More than 300 Veterans of the Vietnam War era participated in the event, said Esmurria.
Many of those Veterans are networked with local Veteran service organizations, explained Braga, however there were some who came from Arizona, Carlisle, Pa., Kansas City, Mo., Maine and Virginia. Braga spoke to Darryl Johnson, a homeless U.S. Navy Veteran from the Riverside, Calif., area, who felt compelled to attend.
Braga described seeing Veterans arrive on motorcycles and some who are disabled – transported on a bus from the Barstow Veterans Home – as awesome and gratifying.
“It was a proper welcome home and a day of thanks,” Braga said.
The colonel emphasized that interactions amongst Veterans and Soldiers, who supported the ceremony, was the best part for many he spoke with that afternoon. The Veterans were presented coins and pins, which were sponsored by the Department of Defense, Braga said.
“We had 100 servicemembers sit at the tables and interact personally with Veterans,” Braga stated. “The Veterans were ‘coined’ by those active duty Soldiers. And that, I heard from multiple Vietnam Veterans, meant more to them than anything else throughout the day. That personal relationship with an active duty Soldier – one generation to the next – that was the best part of the day.”
Esmurria recalled a couple of occasions speaking with Soldiers, who understood and acknowledged the significance of meeting and speaking with Vietnam Veterans. One young Soldier, operating a weapons exhibit, pointed out that an M16 rifle needed to be added to the display. The iconic rifle was first used extensively in Vietnam and Esmurria explained that showcasing it was very considerate.
“Here was a young Soldier who was eager to bridge the gap between the Veterans and today’s Soldiers,” Esmurria said. “He was concerned enough to say, ‘Hey we understand what you’ve done and we appreciate you. Here is how we’ve taken what you gave us (the M16) and how it has evolved in the military. So, you had a lot of Soldiers out there that day, who in different conversations, were bridging that gap.”
Another Soldier approached Esmurria at the concert and declared that it was the best event he had attended.
“He was a young specialist from the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment,” Esmurria stated. “You could see that it was a very emotional event for him … a life-changing event that signified what it meant to truly be an American Soldier in today’s environment.”
Braga thanked the collective effort of the installation, Barstow, the USO of Ontario, and all the sponsors – for making the day special. For some Veterans it was their first event since the war. Braga heard some Veterans say:
“It was the best day of my life.”
“Memorial Day is not about cookouts, hot dogs and balloons,” Braga said.
He stressed that it is about remembering those who paid the ultimate sacrifice, and explained that the observance honors servicemembers who have died in service to the country.
“As a nation we are allowed to exist on the sacrifices of those who came before us,” the colonel said.
Esmurria described those sacrifices as representing freedom across the world.
Memorial Day support, as an installation, is off-post – at ceremonies in the High Desert, said Braga. He encourages the Fort Irwin community to attend; the closest one takes place at Mountain View Cemetery in Barstow.
“Part of our job as Soldiers, and very importantly, is to be out there in uniform and have a presence to help recognize those past generations,” Braga said.
At the Barstow event, leadership will speak and Soldiers perform the duties of an honor rifle squad and bugler.
The command team spoke about summer safety, including water safety for the many who go to pools, lakes, rivers and the ocean. Always have a buddy when going swimming.
“We’re in the desert, but a lot of people go to bodies of water for recreation,” Braga said. “Please be safe in the water.”
Braga also emphasized road safety. Children will be out of school by June and will be active on the installation, Braga said. Because of the summer break, crossing guards will not be present, so be on the lookout for the little ones.
When driving off post, Esmurria recommends having a contingency plan and Braga reminds us to be cognizant that Interstate 15 is one of the most dangerous roads here.
“There are a lot of people on the road in the summer, so drive safely,” Braga said.