The 232-year-old roots

  • Published
  • By Army Lt. Col. Kemp Chester
  • 344th Military Intelligence Battalion commander
The United States military is conditioned to look forward. Our hours and days here at Goodfellow Air Force Base are designed to train our people to constantly look to the future; to the next threat, the impending challenge, or the coming opportunity. Our focus on the future is one of the attributes that has made our military what it is today -- the finest fighting force the world has ever known.

However, in our constant effort to anticipate the needs of the future, it is important that we never lose sight of our past. As a military we are, in large measure, the sum of our past experiences; those events -- both triumphant and painful -- that shape our thinking and our culture.

This month we celebrate the 232nd birthday of the United States Army. America's Army was formed by the Continental Congress on June 14, 1775, and the following day Gen. George Washington was named its first general and commander in chief. Since that very moment, the Army has been one of the most steadfast and enduring institutions in America's proud history.

The Army's birthday provides us a brief respite from training our eyes on the future and gives us the opportunity to look back upon our heritage, to our proud history, and to the experiences that made us who we are today. And that is particularly appropriate for us here in San Angelo and the Concho Valley because it is here, in this place, that our young Army took root and began to evolve into the Army we know today.

As our nation emerged from the horror of the Civil War, it began to look westward in order to expand across the continent. The thousands of pioneers who left their homes in the safety and comfort of the east and pushed across the open plains were in need of help and protection, and the United States Army was there.

Fort Concho was established in 1867 at the junction of the North and Middle Concho Rivers, strategically placed to provide protection for Americans traveling along the five major westward trails that passed nearby.

Over the following twelve years, the fort was constructed of sandstone mined from nearby quarries and was considered at the time to be "one of the most beautiful and well ordered posts in Texas." Fort Concho was one of a line of forts that paralleled the nation's frontier at the time, and was vital to the country's westward expansion.

The fort's physical beauty was complemented by some of the most honored regiments and dynamic Soldiers our Army has ever known. Elements of five different cavalry regiments and ten different infantry regiments made their homes at Fort Concho, to include many of the same regiments serving in Iraq and Afghanistan today.

All four regiments of the famous "Buffalo Soldiers" were stationed at Fort Concho as well, where they earned their reputation as some of the most valorous and well-led Soldiers our nation has ever produced.

Henry O. Flipper, the first African-American graduate of West Point, was posted to Fort Concho in May, 1880, and within a month he was leading his Soldiers in pursuit of the famous Apache Chief Victorio.

William "Pecos Bill" Shafter commanded at Fort Concho as did the illustrious Ranald Mackenzie who, with his famous "Mackenzie's Raiders," recorded a series of stunning victories against hostile forces through- out west Texas.

However, once the guns fell silent and a relative peace had arrived on the plains, the Army abandoned Fort Concho in 1889.

Today, Fort Concho still stands in the center of San Angelo, looking remarkably the same as it did over a century ago. And today, the United States Army thrives in San Angelo as well. The Soldiers who built these roads, dug these wells, worked this land, and protected the forbears of San Angelo's residents are long gone, but their descendants -- the Army Soldiers of today -- still train in the west Texas heat and prepare themselves for battles yet to be fought. And many of those Soldiers who train here at Goodfellow Air Force Base will soon be assigned to the very same regiments that occupied Fort Concho so many years ago.

We are a proud service whose history dates back to the days before our nation was born. A large part of that history, and the victories that made possible the nation we know today, were created right here in San Angelo. It is a testament to the resilience of the United States Army that our Soldiers still serve here today in the Concho Valley and it is with a great deal of respect and reverence that we remember our history, and the Soldiers who have come before us, during this month.

Please join me and all the Soldiers of the 344th Military Intelligence Battalion as we celebrate the 232nd birthday of the United States Army.