ROCHESTER, NEW YORK –
Over 100 veterans gathered together for a 98th Training Division (Initial Entry Training) Alumni Luncheon on April 20, 2017.
The 98th Division Alumni, which is a volunteer-run organization, meets on the third Thursday of the month to share information, see old acquaintances and make new friends, said lead organizer, Tim Streb.
On some months, there are also award ceremonies. In April, three awards were given out to recent Army Reserve retirees: Chief Warrant Officer 2 Staci E. Sukhenko, Sgt. 1st Class William C. Smith and Sgt. Maj. Jane Decker.
Both Sukhenko and Smith were honored with the ‘Order of the Tomahawk,’ which can only be awarded by the current commanding general. The award is the 98th Training Division’s highest accolade that acknowledges extraordinary, meritorious service by an individual to the Iroquois Division. The ‘Order of the Tomahawk’ is a manner of thanks to Soldiers for their contributions, making them part of the history and soul of the division, said the certificates signed by Brig. Gen. Miles A. Davis, commanding general, 98th Training Division.
The third award, a Legion of Merit, was presented to Decker for over 40 years of dedicated and selfless service. Decker, a Spencerport, New York resident, was the last division personnel sergeant major before the restructuring reduced the position to the rank of master sergeant.
The luncheon attendees cover a variety of ages, ranks, job skills and even military services, said Streb. However, all attendees seem to get one main thing out of coming, according to Command Sgt. Maj. (Ret.) Eugene R. Porter, the first-ever division command sergeant major. “I enjoy the camaraderie. It’s very important.”
Fellow veteran and former Tuskegee Airman, Chief Warrant Officer 4 (Ret.) Charles Price, agrees that camaraderie is critical for veterans and that it opens the door to new friendships. “The camaraderie is nice… but it’s the friendships that you get.”
Of course, when Porter, 91, and Price, 94, started their military careers, everything was much different, said both the veterans. “Uncle Sam had a Japanese Army…Puerto Rican…Native American…there were all these different units and Uncle Sam was paying for each one of them,” said Price who was assigned to the 98th Training Division after his time as a Tuskegee Airman.
Essentially, the only thing that has stayed the same in the military since Price and Porter served, has been change. That has been consistent.
“Being in the Reserve today is a lot different than when I joined,” said Porter who served for 42 years, which included time in WWII.
The changes have made military service and even America better, according to Price. “I’d never be able to sit here with my buddy who I have known for years now…our friendship is different now,” said Price as he tapped the hand of his long-time friend Porter.
The two then laughed and shared a story about when Porter’s grandson received his Reserve Officer Training Corps commissioning to 2nd lieutenant. “Remember I said, ‘Don’t forget that you have to salute him now,’” chuckled Price. “You did…and I did,” said Porter with a smile.
Throughout the luncheon, it was moments like this the veterans clearly enjoyed: sharing their lives and stories with other veterans, and knowing the other veterans would understand them. It was also the reason they urged other veterans, regardless of service, to come and join their monthly gatherings. “You meet a lot of people you may not have known before, but you will get to know them real well,” said Porter.