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Going back to Ft. Benning
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Last month, I went back to Columbus and Fort Benning, Georgia for another book signing at the National Infantry Museum. Three of my Officer Candidate School classmates Rudy Baker, Chuck Foster, and Dick White, along with their respective wives, Pat, Grace, and Cheryl, joined me for the event.
This was our second book signing there of our critically acclaimed book, "The Boys of Benning." We sold and signed a lot of books, but the real joy came from being back among soldiers and their families.
We met hundreds of young soldiers who had just graduated from basic or advanced Infantry training, and some who were eagerly on their way to Airborne training. What struck me most was the large turnout of families and friends for this milestone in the soldiers‘ lives.
We met folks from all across America. They came from hometowns large and small -- from New York City and Los Angeles to Brunswick, Maine and Brunswick, Georgia. I counted at least 22 states proudly represented by them. Despite their diversity in age, gender, education, ethnicity, race, religion, and “socio-economic status,” these soldiers, along with their loving families and friends, shared a common bond: love of  country and willingness to serve, in harm’s way, if necessary.
Love of country may seem like a naive notion to many Americans, especially the so-called “selfies” among us. Willingness to serve our nation in uniform may be fine for others, but not for those who prefer the more carefree and permissive way of life.
Thank God, we still have patriotic men and women, willing and able to serve, for a tour of duty or a career. We are doubly and triply blessed by their families and friends, who provide the emotional and moral support so vital to their success and well-being, during and after their service.
All that joy, all that patriotism, and all that pride were on full display last week in Columbus and Fort Benning. The National Infantry Museum Parade Field was the focal point for it, as thousands of Americans joined together to witness a rite of passage older than our Republic itself, the transition from civilian to soldier, and all that entails. And how fitting it was for these newly minted soldiers to “Pass in Review,” on a  parade field sprinkled with soil from far-flung battlefields, dating all the way back to the American Revolutionary War.
After the pomp and circumstance had faded, what remained for the soldiers, their families, and their loved ones was time -- sweet, precious, fleeting time together. All too soon, duty would beckon, and that time so briefly but fully savored would be become precious memories.
Retired Army Col. Thomas B. Vaughn can be reached at