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World War I Centennial Commemoration: Honoring the past to embrace the future

By Sgt. 1st Class Emily Anderson | 80th Training Command | Sept. 27, 2018

VERDUN, France — Walking through the fields and trenches where the 80th Division Soldiers trekked during World War I, Maj. Gen. Bruce Hackett, Commanding General of the 80th Training Command (The Army School System) participated in World War I centennial commemoration activities in Verdun, France, September 20-25, 2018. 

“I have visited France numerous times as a tourist but never thought of having this 'once in a lifetime' opportunity to be a part of the remembrance to honor the scarifies of our forefathers at this centennial mark,” said Hackett, an Army Reserve Soldier representing one of eight Reserve units that fought in France during WWI.

“The 80th has an exceptional legacy generated from WWI,” Hackett said. “The opportunity to immerse myself into the battlefields to live the memory of a lifetime will definitely enhance my professional knowledge of the brutal conditions and tactics of WWI.”

As part of the Department of Defense's World War I centennial commemoration activities, the 80th TC assisted the U.S. Army Reserve Command in highlighting events associated with two of the most pivotal campaign offenses—St. Mihiel and Meuse-Argonne. 

The Battle of Saint-Mihiel was the first major independent American offensive of World War I, a battle fought from September 20-25, 1918. It was during this battle the Army Reserve ("National Army") divisions began making a name for themselves by collapsing the German's position. 

“I have spent majority of my military career assigned to units within the exact three regions comprising the 'Blue Ridge Division' and feel very fortunate being the Commanding General of the 80th at this point in history,” Hackett said. “I am very humbled and proud of being an ambassador of America, our Army and the 80th during these commemorative events.” 

Ten days after the Battle of Saint-Mihiel, American efforts refocused on the Meuse-Argonne Offensive, the largest in United States military history, covering the entire Western Front with 1.2 million Soldiers and Marines. 

“[The 80th] was the only American Expeditionary Forces Division called upon to engage the enemy in all three times in the Meuse-Argonne Offensive, which is known to be the largest and deadliest battle in American history,” explained Hackett.

During the commemoration, the sacrifices made in both battles were honored by ceremonies in France, hosted by the American Battle Monuments Commission and the U.S. Defense Department. 

“In addition to honoring our fallen 80th heroes at the St Mihiel and Meuse-Argonne Cemeteries, there is a small town the 80th liberated after four years of German occupation called Nantillous,” Hackett explained. “The only monument dedicated to the 80th Division soldiers during WWI resides in this town.”

“It will be my distinct honor and privilege to visit and pay tribute to the citizens of Nantillous for their patronage in keeping the legacy of the 80th alive through their spirit and dedicated memory of our soldiers,” he added.

Along with Hackett, others from the 80th included Command Sgt. Maj. Dennis “Jay” Thomas, the 80th TC’s command sergeant major, and Sgt. 1st Class Martin Rhoades, a military instructor assigned to the 80th who earned the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command 2017 Instructor of the Year title.

“I am humbled to be the command sergeant major of such a great organization with a proud history, and to be a part of the commemorative event is a great honor,” said Thomas.“I want to learn more about our history and the challenges our unit faced during the war.”

“This event is so important to all, that we never forget the ultimate sacrifices our Soldiers and families faced to keep our country and other countries free,” he added. “It is important that we recognize these events to know our history and to pay respect to those who didn't make it.”