History is important

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Kemp Chester
  • 344th Military Intelligence Battalion commander
One of the most rewarding aspects of commanding a battalion in the United States Army is the continual opportunity to gain a deeper appreciation of the long history of the Army as well as the place your unit holds in that history.

The 344th Military Intelligence Battalion has been part of Goodfellow Air Force Base and the San Angelo community for decades. During that time, many of the Military Intelligence Officers and Soldiers who have shaped our branch and our Army have trained here at Goodfellow, and all of them have taken their experiences with them to every corner of the world. Many of those Soldiers have long since retired, some still serve in the Army today, and some who have retired and made their homes here in West Texas as civilians remain deeply involved in the life of the battalion to this day.

I had the pleasure of leafing through a stack of 344th Military Intelligence Battalion historical files recently. Instead of simply acknowledging the many obvious differences between the 344th of today and the battalion of years gone by, I was struck by how little has truly changed over the years.

I saw a photograph from the July 23, 1981, edition of "The Monitor." The yellowed newspaper clipping shows Airman Steven Van Camp handing the keys to the base to Sergeant Jerry Raiter; the base had been renamed "Fort Goodfellow" in honor of the 205th birthday of the Army and in accordance with the annual Army Ball theme, "Forts of the Southwest." The photograph was even more interesting in light of the fact that this week we began planning for this year's Army Ball, where we will celebrate the 233rd Army birthday.

The annual Army-Navy game is ably represented in our historical files as well. Beginning in 1978, based upon the outcome of the annual classic between West Point and Annapolis which was played in Philadelphia, the losing commander was required to march the other's mascot across Goodfellow Air Force Base. The Jan. 4, 1985, edition of "The Monitor" captures Lieutenant Colonel Brian C. Warren passing the Army mule to Lieutenant Kent Kraemer, the Navy Detachment commander, before he and his Sailors parade the proud animal down the street. A few years later, local bragging rights began to be determined by the outcome of the Army-Navy flag football game held here on the base which Army has won every year since at least 2004.

Other aspects of the Army experience at Goodfellow have been deeply entrenched here for many years as well. An old "Monitor" column from 1992 named "Ask the Commander" features the 344th Military Intelligence Battalion Commander responding to a complaint about the noise generated by cadence calling during battalion runs, the same battalion runs we conduct every month. A "Commander's Corner" from the mid-1990s discusses the importance of our training in preparing Soldiers for the rigors of serving in the Army in a dangerous and uncertain world; an Army and a world that had not yet seen the horror of September 11th and wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Our battalion history records battalion changes of command being held on horseback at Fort Concho, Soldiers conducting physical training each morning before dawn, and troops spending their afternoons conducting tactical training and preparing for combat in the West Texas heat.

Any commander could be forgiven for thinking that every new initiative, directive, or procedure provides a novel way of leading his or her subordinates and accomplishing the mission. But such a narrow focus belies a deeper truth; outstanding leaders have been accomplishing the exact same mission, in the exact same location, with an equal level of energy and creativity for many years before you arrived, and will do so long after you leave.

In paging through the photos and newspaper clippings that compose the history of the 344th MI Battalion at Goodfellow one can see at least four different uniforms, countless different styles of headgear, and a steady parade of Battalion Commanders and Command Sergeants Major; all separated by time but forever linked by their association with one of the finest training battalions our Army has ever known. And throughout decades of differences in uniforms, leaders, and the Army in which our Soldiers serve, one thing has remained completely unchanged since the 344th MI Battalion unfolded its colors on Goodfellow Air Force Base so many years ago; the professionalism and dedication of our Soldiers and the men and women who lead them here.

A deep and abiding appreciation for our history is what links us to those who came before us. In our case, it can provide the men and women of the 344th Military Intelligence Battalion a sense of who we are and where we belong in the long and proud history of the military, the United States Army, and the 344th Military Intelligence Battalion here on Goodfellow Air Force Base.