The new commander of the Army's largest training base says the experience he gleaned during combat in Iraq will help inspire civilians volunteering to join the service while the nation is still at war.
“These civilian volunteers, they are volunteering at a time when they know more than likely they are going into combat. That elicits all kinds of emotions,” said Brig. Gen. Bradley May, speaking with reporters after accepting command at Fort Jackson in Columbia.
“I will take what I learned in combat and … apply that here at the installation and help mentor those who are about to go into combat,” the one-star general said. “We are a nation at war, and our responsibility here is to take those young civilian volunteers and transform them into warriors.”
Fort Jackson graduates about 50,000 soldiers annually after 11 weeks of basic training, or about 54 percent of the Army's enlisted soldiers.
Another 61,000 soldiers and civilians also enter some type of advanced training each year on this 91-year-old post, which covers 52,000 acres.
May said the decoration he received – a Bronze Star with a “V” device for valor – stemmed from fighting during the summer of 2004 in Iraq, when his 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment was ordered to halt its movement to leave Iraq, and instead regroup and turn to attack the forces of anti-U.S. cleric Muqtada al-Sadr near the Shiite holy city of Najaf.
“Frankly, we got into some fierce fighting. We fought for about six weeks over the summer of 2004 to quell the militia uprising,” May said when asked to describe the reason behind the decoration, one of the service's highest. “My awarding of the Bronze Star is as much about the soldiers I was surrounded by than anything I ever did.”
During a tradition-laced ceremony on the parade grounds, May accepted the flag representing his new post from Brig. Gen. James Schwitters, who retired after 33 years in the service.