“Take this box of sand with you; it needs to get to Washington DC.”
If you are a young enlisted man charged with the security of getting a general, and everything that goes with him, safely out of Afghanistan the last thing you need to be in charge of is a box of dirt. Also, if you are an enlisted man and a colonel tells you to safely escort a box of sand, you may be thinking, “Say wha?!” but you respond with a crisp, “Yes sir.”
In my work as a volunteer at the National Infantry Museum at Ft. Benning Georgia, I hear a lot of good stories. This young man’s story was spreading through the museum that day like kudzu on the nearby trees. You see… he was here to see the sand.
He told me lugging a box of dirt out of Afghanistan along with everything and everyone else seemed crazy. He and his buddies questioned each other wondering, “Why on earth are we doing this?” I suspect– and am willing to bet– this question was a lot more colorful originally and was cleaned up for present company. They even wondered if it were possible to somehow “dump the dirt.” Of course, being the responsible young military men they were, they never carried out that plan but soldiered on with the added weight and responsibility of a box of sand. When he arrived in Germany, he was surprised to find someone looking for him… and the box of sand. When he asked why it was important to take a box of sand to Washington DC he was answered with a shrug and the statement, “I don’t know; it’s going to some museum.”
Now, of course, anyone working at the museum knows why this box of sand is significant. We know we are hearing a special story and meeting a special young man. You see, we tell the story of “dirt” to visitors every day. And when we tell visitors about our special dirt and where it can be found, I have seen tears in the eyes of grown men. But, back to our story of this young man…
After his tour in Afghanistan, our solider decides he wants to become an officer. He attends OCS (Officer Candidate School) at Ft. Benning. When he graduates and is ready to head to his next assignment, he calls the colonel who gave him the task of escorting the box of sand out of Afghanistan more than a year earlier. He knew the colonel would be proud of him and wanted to share his accomplishment. It was then the colonel explained the true significance of the box of Afghanistan sand.
The National Infantry Museum has a signature exhibit called The Last Hundred Yards. It is there to honor the American infantryman who takes the last hundred yards of battle on foot, up close, face to face with the enemy, and has done so since the Revolutionary War. Battles from Yorktown to Omaha Beach to Iraq are depicted in this centerpiece of the museum. The exhibit is a moving experience for those who have served, are serving, and teaches all of us about the uncommon valor of the American infantryman and his willingness to fight and die for our freedom.
There is a parade field at the museum, where at least once a week, our nation’s youth graduate from basic infantry training. They are heading to assignments around the globe, often in harm’s way, to serve our country. MG (Ret) Jerry White (the vision behind the museum) wanted these young graduates to understand the legacy they were becoming part of, so he ordered the parade field spread with “sacred soil”. Soil—or in this case, sand– where American infantrymen fought and died making the ultimate sacrifice — was gathered from all over the world. There is soil on this parade field from Yorktown, Antietam, Soissons, Omaha Beach, L.Z. X-Ray…to name just a few. And so it came to be 2 LT Lane Berg carried the soil out of Afghanistan to join the soils our forefathers fought and died for. Young soldiers visit the museum and walk slowly through the last hundred yards exhibit and they graduate on the sacred soil from these battles. Infantrymen continue to march on, their duty to preserve our freedom; it is our duty to respect and honor those who willingly choose to serve their country.
Lt. Berg was on his mobile phone calling his buddies from his tour in Afghanistan telling them the story of the sacred soil. He understands the legacy he is part of and the honor being shown to our nation’s soldiers. Plan a visit to the museum, make a small donation if you can, to say thank you in a big way to all of those who know, first hand, freedom is not free.