As Mayme and I prepare to depart the Joint Readiness Training Center and Fort Polk, I find myself reflecting on the quick passage of time since taking command here in November of 2012. These past years in Louisiana have been quite a ride – and we are leaving with indelible memories.
Thank you, all of you. A simple ‘thank you’, though, does little to convey the depth of our feelings for the people of Louisiana and the heroes who live and work at the JRTC and Fort Polk. From the first day of our arrival in Louisiana, you have shown us what Southern hospitality is all about. We felt welcomed from the beginning, and it didn’t take long for us to feel right at home. And now it feels as if we are leaving home…
You already know that Louisiana is unique among our United States – I learned that quickly during my introduction to Cajun and Creole celebrations and cuisine. What I also learned quickly is that the support offered by the people in this state to the military is second to none. That support isn’t offered by just the communities that surround Fort Polk proper – wherever I go throughout Louisiana, I am welcomed by people whose patriotism is reflected by the care they give our Soldiers and Family members. You’ve created a home away from home for them – and have helped care for the spouses and children left behind during deployments. Never, in my military career, have I seen such outreach. It has been –always will be — unforgettable.
Together we have made huge strides in quality of life initiatives for not only military Families, but also civilians. Our Education Initiative, implemented to improve education for all, has gained positive attention at the highest levels of the Department of the Army due to a statewide effort by educators, concerned parents and community leaders. Infrastructure throughout Fort Polk is undergoing sweeping renovations and modernizations, all of which positively affect the economy throughout the state. JRTC rotations are getting bigger and longer. Throughout the years, the JRTC and Fort Polk mission has been a constant: To train Soldiers, and when ordered deploy those Soldiers overseas.
That was true in 1941 when Generals Patton, Marshall and Eisenhower traveled to our area to witness the Louisiana Maneuvers. It was true during the Vietnam era when General William Westmoreland observed training here at Tiger land. And it is true now, as the JRTC remains one of the Army’s premier training centers.
I know that pending Army decisions about the number of Soldiers assigned at Fort Polk have caused some uncertainty, but this community – and I mean this community statewide-has pulled together in the face of that uncertainty, and I am grateful for that. During two listening sessions held in as many years, no other installation received as many public comments of support. ‘We are Army strong’ was one of the themes woven through proceedings during the most recent listening session, held March 3, in Leesville, Alexandria and Lake Charles. That has never been evidenced so clearly, so strongly.
We call Fort Polk ‘the best Hometown in the Army.’ Those are much more than mere words. There’s a force and inherent truth behind them that makes them all the more powerful. Again, thank you. I am proud to have been a member of the Fort Polk team living in the great State of Louisiana.
In the military, we don’t say ‘goodbye,’ only ’till we meet again.’ So, until we meet again, Godspeed, God Bless you, and God Bless the United States of America.
Brig. Gen. William B. Hickman
Commanding General, Joint Readiness Training Center and Fort Polk