There’s no place like home. You might know those words from the American classic film “The Wizard of Oz.” It’s a movie that illustrates the simple dreams of a young girl, Dorothy, from Kansas and the importance of family — the simple American family.
And so it is this American family, the Wests, will fly back to Kansas Saturday where our family began. It was there I met Angela and where we first settled. Both of our daughters, Aubrey and Austen, were born in Kansas — Ft. Riley and Topeka respectively. And we have not been back since we left in 1997 after my graduation from the U.S. Army Command and General Staff Officers College.
Our return to Kansas is centered around a special event that we will attend Saturday evening. The 16th Infantry Regiment “Rangers” Association is holding its annual awards and honors dinner in Ft. Riley/Junction City. The 16th Infantry is part of the 1st Infantry Division and shares the valorous history of the endeavor known as Operation Overlord — D-Day — as the 16th Infantry Regiment, commanded by Colonel George A. Taylor, was scheduled to land on “Easy Red” and “Fox Green” beaches two sections of a five-mile-long beachhead code-named “Omaha.
On D-Day at Omaha Beach, Brig. Gen. George Taylor, then a colonel in command of the 16th Infantry Regiment, said: “There are two kinds of people who are staying on this beach – those who are dead and those who are going to die. Now let’s get the hell out of here.”
So it is with great honor that I served as the 2nd Battalion, 16th Infantry Regiment Task Force Fire Support Officer (FSO), call sign “Ranger 14”, during Operation Desert Storm under the command of LTC Dan Fake. It was with that unit that I earned my Army Commendation Medal with V Device and a Valorous unit award. Truly, a part of the legacy of honor and valor of those men who landed 70 years ago on the beaches of Normandy.And even greater, the guest speaker for the 16th Infantry Association dinner is famed Army Commanding General of Army Forces, Pacific General Vincent Brooks — one half of the famed Brooks Brothers (not the clothing line). General Brooks, and his brother retired Major General Leo Brooks, are mentors of mine and General Vincent Brooks was the first black man to hold the distinct title of Cadet Brigade Commander at the United States Military Academy, West Point. So for me, there is no place like home — being around those who have served in the Big Red One!
For Angela, her history in Kansas far precedes my own as it was there in Manhattan she earned her undergraduate, and subsequently her PhD, from her alma mater Kansas State University. It was there her brilliant career in marketing and finance began, and continues on today. It was there in Kansas where Angela picked out our first home after I redeployed from Operation Desert Storm — 300 Morning Glory Drive in Manhattan — and we look forward to seeing it once again.
However it was there in Kansas that Angela joined me, after I liberated her from Manhattan (New York) and returned her to the “Little Apple” and we started a family. Aubrey, who was born in April of 1993 will get to see Irwin Army Community Hospital where she entered this world. Austen will get to see Stormont-Vail Hospital in Topeka where she took her first breath in November 1996. When we left Kansas they were so very young, and they are excited.
Sunday we will have brunch with friends at the Manhattan Country Club and I’m quite sure tears will flow. We will go by College Heights Baptist Church in Manhattan where Aubrey was baptized. And later in the day we will drive down to Ft. Leavenworth Kansas to spend the night and go by where Austen was baptized at the Army base chapel.
The West family — Angela, Aubrey, Austen, and I — will follow the “Yellow Brick Road” because there is no place like home. And knowing Angela, there will be lots of pictures shared on her Coffee Corner Facebook page, which is linked to here or just click on the pink Facebook icon above.