Top Guard General: Nation’s Guard Members at Peak of Excellence
By Staff Sgt. Jim Greenhill, USA
Special to American Forces Press Service
BOSTON, Aug. 22, 2007 As the chief of the National Guard Bureau touted the achievements of today’s citizen-soldiers and -airmen to sports commentators at Fenway Park here earlier this month, a 91-year-old World War II veteran sitting in the stands below the broadcast booth made much the same claims on behalf of today’s Guard members.
Army Lt. Gen. H Steven Blum, chief of the National Guard Bureau, meets with members of 1st Battalion, 158th Cavalry, of the Maryland Army National Guard and other National Guard troops who are about to deploy overseas, during a visit to Fort Dix, N.J., on Aug. 16. During his trip, Blum also visited Boston, where he said, "The quality of the Guard is better than it’s ever been at any time in the history of the Guard.” Photo by Staff Sgt. Jim Greenhill, USA
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
During the fifth inning of the Aug. 17 Boston Red Sox baseball game against the Los Angeles Angels, Army Lt. Gen. H Steven Blum told Jerry Remy and Don Orsillo of the New England Sports Network that 70 percent of Guard members have served at least one tour related to the global war on terrorism.
“We’re in 40 countries,” Blum said. “We’re providing about 50,000 troops overseas as you and I are talking and watching this ballgame; 6,000 on the southwest border; and about 10,000 called out by their governors for forest fires, floods, … getting ready for hurricanes.”
Blum explained how being a Guard member requires balancing civilian vocations, schooling and family life with military commitments. “This is the most experienced, combat-proven force that we’ve ever had,” he said.
The general was in Boston in part to visit with members of the 29th Infantry Division Association, which includes soldiers from the National Guard division who have served as long ago as World War II and as recently as this year in Afghanistan and Iraq.
One of those soldiers, 91-year-old Stanley Bernstein, was watching the ballgame below where Blum was being interviewed.
Bernstein was a platoon sergeant when he landed on Omaha Beach on the French coast. His platoon came ashore in a different place than planned. “We were supposed to oppose one German division,” he said. “Instead, there were three divisions on maneuvers, and they decimated our troops.”
Twenty-three of his men died. After that, Bernstein fought the Germans and their allies from France through Belgium and into Germany, where he was among soldiers who entered the concentration camps.
About every two years until he was in his 80s and could no longer make the journey, Bernstein went back to the beach where his comrades fell, keeping a promise he had made to their memory.
He took his wife. “You couldn’t have been here,” he recalled her saying. “How did you get on top of that mountain?”
Bernstein also took each of his five children. “I wanted to show each child the horrors I went through serving our great country, and I wanted to tell them how proud I was doing this and wanted them to instill this in others,” he said.
He has been married for 60 years, has five children and 12 grandchildren and retired as a successful businessman. Yet when a uniformed soldier sitting next to him reminded Bernstein how he and his colleagues are often called the “Greatest Generation,” he replied: “Today’s soldiers, in my judgment, the sacrifices they are making are the most commendable thing I’ve ever seen. The last six years, you’ve been doing services that are so outstanding. The National Guard has done an outstanding job.”
Bernstein said he fought to repay his country and still would. “Having been a first-generation American -- my parents came from Europe -- I felt I owed my country, because it’s been so great to our family. Only in America can you come from poverty and make a decent living, sleep peacefully in a house every day, drive a car. For a minority, being Jewish, coming from nowhere, having no background, you were able to get an education, get a decent job. I’m grateful to our country. I would give my life for it.”
Meanwhile, Blum was upstairs taking with Remy and Orsillo.
“It bonds generations,” he said of military service. “The quality of the Guard is better than it’s ever been at any time in the history of the Guard.”
(Army Staff Sgt. Jim Greenhill is assigned to the National Guard Bureau.)