The Delta Dawgs delivered a valentine in the form of good old-fashioned elbow grease to the Fort Sill National Cemetery on Friday.
Three troop transports dropped off 185 basic trainees from D Battery, 1st Battalion, 79th Field Artillery at the cemeterys headquarters shortly after 9 a.m. Their drill sergeants marched them into a maintenance barn, where they sat on the floor to watch a short video about the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs National Cemetery and its mission.
Capt. Branden Buffalo, battery commander, said his trainees come to the cemetery at least once per 10-week training cycle for whats called Honor the Fallen.
Honor the Fallen is about taking the time to remember our forebears, those who came before us and set the conditions for us to do what we do today. Its an opportunity for the trainees to really learn a little bit about the Army tradition and stewarding profession as far as never forgetting where we came from, Buffalo said.
This was the batterys sixth time to pay their respects to Americas veterans. The captain estimated that each time, they do about 600 man-hours worth of work in one day.
Skyler Holmes, assistant director of the Fort Sill and Fort Gibson national cemeteries, said what the soldiers do in a matter of hours would take the cemetery s small staff a month.
We really appreciate them hosting us. We always have a fantastic time interacting with the staff here, the captain said.
The trainees typically clean headstones and do some area beautification. This time they had a special chore to perform. Elgin Middle School plans to have its annual Gettysburg Address competition at the Fort Sill National Cemetery s Gettysburg Address plaque in March, so the trainees helped spruce up the site by removing mulch from the site and taking it to a bare spot on the other side of the cemetery.
Holmes said the area where the mulch was will be backfilled with river rock. Before the trainees got started, cemetery staff took out partitions between the grass and the mulch, as the cemetery is going borderless for the new look.
The battery was divided into subgroups to perform multiple tasks, according to Bruce Abernathy, work lead for the cemetery. One is an ongoing project to raise and realign the headstones. Abernathy said one of the biggest jobs is keeping them looking sharp and straight. He added that it would take the staff a full year to do all of the 1,000-plus markers, but the soldiers could probably dig several hundred in one day.
All the tasks are different, and they re all just as important, Abernathy said.
Lt. Col. Eric Kunak, commander of 1st Battalion, 79th Field Artillery, 434th Field Artillery Brigade, affirmed that Friday was a training holiday for the Forces Command side of Fort Sill, but that has little effect on Training and Doctrine Command. TRADOC units have light days on federal holidays but not the four-day weekends that FORSCOM units get.
We still have a mission to perform, and basic training continues, said Kunak, but he added that today is a very special day, at least for our battalion.
Bravo Battery, 1-79 FA, graduated its latest class of basic trainees Friday afternoon, and Class 12-20 of Delta Battery spent the morning helping the staff of the Fort Sill National Cemetery make it presentable for families and loved ones of those interred there.
We have five pillars of Stewards of the Professional. One of those is definitely remembering where you come from, the empathy portion of being a soldier. This is a great visualization for these brand-new soldiers, to understand where they come from and the sacrifices that others made before them. It s actually a very good look at the practical application of the Army values, Kunak explained.
Pvt. Hunter Page of Dallas, Texas, dug holes next to grave markers so they could be moved over for the realignment project.
We re doing this because they served our country before. We re just trying to pay due respect to them and help them out, Page said.