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Members of the Armor, Cavalry, Infantry and Fort Benning communities came together Thursday at the National Infantry Museum as the National Armor and Cavalry Gallery held its grand opening.
Armor School commandant Brig. Gen. Leopoldo Quintas said the gallery's opening is the latest step in the ongoing process of combining the Armor, Cavalry and Infantry.
"This morning marks an important point in the ongoing growth, development and establishment of the Maneuver Center of Excellence," he said. "This continues the coming together of Infantry and Armor to become something more than the sum of our individual parts. Before today, we lacked a significant component of that coming together - this location for Soldiers, Families and the public to see and learn about the history of Armor and Cavalry."
The gallery contains artifacts and displays from throughout Armor and Cavalry history, and is intended to provide guests with a good overview of the branch's role in American military history.
"We were able to put as much of our history as we could into a relatively small space. It tells a great story of Armor and Cavalry and really ties into the rest of the National Infantry Museum," Quintas said. "It is about the past, but it's about connecting the past to the present, and certainly as we train our Soldiers and leaders here at Fort Benning, it's a great asset for our instructors and leaders. ... We can look to the past to give indications of what the future holds."
Col. Robert Choppa, Infantry School commandant, was also on hand to lend his support for the gallery's opening.
"It's truly a great day not only for the Infantry, but for our Armor and Cavalry brothers because this great museum which celebrates the tradition and history of the Infantry no longer will do that alone," Choppa said. "From here on, we'll celebrate our history with our Armor and Cavalry brothers who we've served with since the Revolutionary War. That's what combined arms is all about - employing each branch's capabilities in a way that enhances the effort as a whole."
Included in the gallery is an M113A1 armor personnel carrier that was used by the Soldiers of D Company, 16th Armor Regiment, 173rd Airborne Brigade, during the Vietnam War.
A handful of Soldiers from that company made the trip to Fort Benning for the grand opening to see their former vehicle in its newfound role.
"The vehicle has allowed us to gather our company once again after more than 40 years," said Dave Curtin, who served with the company as a sergeant during Vietnam. "We've had reunions, contact over the Internet and guys have seen each other again all thanks to the work done for this vehicle. ... The plaque says it's a veteran, and we think of it as a veteran just like us - a combat-wounded veteran. This is one of us on display. It's just hard to describe how powerful the feeling is after all these many years."
Then-Spc. Warren Williams said he is thankful for the vehicle's inclusion in the gallery because he's been able to replace lost memories.
"War for us and for many of the current Soldiers, wherever they're deployed, becomes a series of snapshots," he said. "You remember those snapshots very well, but the next snapshot comes a little later and what's in between is forgotten forever. So, when you get together with fellow veterans or get to be around our equipment, you get to fill in the spaces. That's very powerful and it helps us to connect all of our snapshots."
The gallery's opening is just the first part of a multiphase effort the National Armor and Cavalry Heritage Foundation has planned.
The next phase is the opening of Patton's Park, an exhibit near the NIM that will display larger vehicles. It is set to open in spring 2014.
After that, the next phase is set to include the construction of a new National Armor and Cavalry Museum, also planned to be built near the NIM.