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McChrystal 'floored' by his first tour of National Infantry Museum

A sculpture of a soldier leading the way stands above the entrance to the National Infantry Museum, located near Fort Benning, Ga.

GLENN FAWCETT/DOD

By CHUCK WILLIAMS | Columbus Ledger-Enquirer | Published: September 7, 2015

COLUMBUS, Ga. (Tribune News Service) — Retired Gen. Stanley McChrystal toured the National Infantry Museum for the first time last month.

And he walked away impressed with the six-year-old, $110 million facility located in South Columbus on the edge of Fort Benning.

"I was absolutely floored by it," McChrystal said when he was here to speak at the Jim Blanchard Leadership Forum.

McChrystal, who retired in 2010, was one of the pivotal Army leaders after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, especially in the special operations community.

McChrystal has committed as part of a high-profile team of retired four-star generals to help raise about $8 million for the museum and its proposed Global War on Terror memorial.

McChrystal, walked out of the museum with two insights about the facility and its mission.

"One, it captures our history," he said. "And it captures the culture of the Last 100 Yards, which the Infantry embodies. But it is also a venue. I didn't realize it was a place where changes of command would occur, where graduations would occur where Infantry and Armor could come together. It is a gathering place that brings us closer together as a community."

Retired Gen. John Abizaid has assembled McChrystal, Gen. George W. Casey, Jr., and Gen. Charles H. Jacoby, Jr. to raise funds and awareness for the museum.

The museum offers an opportunity to help educate the families of those who enlist, McChrystal said.

"What jumped out to me is how many families of new soldiers come and visit it," he said. "They may visit it with their son or daughter as they go through this, but the reality is what you are doing is you are helping educate them. It is scary to send your offspring off, but this is the kind of thing that allows people to understand who may not have had direct association before."

The generals, who all played key leadership roles in the Global War on Terrorism, are looking to design and fund an outside memorial on the eastern edge of the museum facing the replica of the Vietnam Wall memorial. The centerpiece of that memorial will be a 14-foot section of steel beam removed from the World Trade Center after the 9/11 attacks and donated to Fort Benning in 2010. That beam is currently not on display.

The museum also plans to increase the exhibits and better tell the story of the Global War on Terrorism.

"This is a living museum," National Infantry Foundation Chairman and CEO retired Lt. Gen. Carmen Cavezza said. "The story of the Global War on Terrorism has changed significantly since the museum opened in 2009, and our soldiers are still in the fight. The museum needs to continue to grow and to connect faces with names.

Abizaid agrees. "I can't think of a more meaningful way for me to help," said Abizaid, who retired in 2007 and was the longest serving commander of the U.S. Central Command. "The soldiers who have served and continue to fight against terrorists worldwide deserve to have their story fully told in the National Infantry Museum."

The generals are helping the National Infantry Foundation in its goal to raise $20 million. That campaign has been underway for a about a year and has produced about $9 million in donations and pledges.

The debt on the museum is about $10 million, said National Infantry Foundation President Ben Williams. That is down considerably from the nearly $27.6 million in debt when the museum opened.

"We are trying to eliminate the debt as quickly as a we can," Williams said.

Much of the support for the museum has come from inside Columbus and through Columbus connections, Williams said. About two-thirds of the about $100 million raised has come from those with Columbus ties.

"This museum was made possible by the Columbus community and the state of Georgia," Williams said. "This museum is a monument to what we think about our relationship with Fort Benning. And it is a way to demonstrate to the country what we think of that relationship."

Having Abizaid, McChrystal, Casey and Jacoby join the effort is important, Williams said.

Casey retired after serving President George W. Bush as the 36th Chief of Staff of the Army from 2007 to 2011. He previously served as Commanding General, Multi-National Force — Iraq from 2004 to 2007. Jacoby served as Commander, United States Northern Command and Commander, North American Aerospace Defense Command from 2011 to 2014. "We are honored to have people of that magnitude, known not only nationally, but also of world renown, to be advocates for us," Williams said.

McChrystal said he welcomes the challenge. "I am going to try and raise money, both to pay debt and create a Global War on Terror part of the museum," he said. "It is the next step in the Infantry's participation in our nation's fights. It is really important."

©2015 the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer (Columbus, Ga.)

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