Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The Best Hometown in the Army

That's the slogan used by Fort Leavenworth in Kansas.  Fort Leavenworth has been in continuous operation since 1827.  A visitor can stand on the hillside at the center of the vast installation and look out over the Missouri River.  I did, and I wondered what it was like to cross that river in 1827.  The Fort is on the West side of the river.  The river is wide with currents and gullies and deep muddy shallows.  From the steep eastern bank it seems an impossible barrier to the westward promised land.  Those posted to the early fort, and soon those walking west behind their wagons must have stood on the east river bank and wondered how much else they had not understood about the path west.  There is a wonderful museum at Fort Leavenworth where the events of our frontier history are illustrated.  The scope of the Fort's early mission, and the enormity of the landscape to the west are hard to grasp.  We flew from Seattle to Kansas City in under four hours.  Military operations and wagon train journeys lasted months, sometimes years to cover this ground.  There is a cemetery at the Fort.  George Armstrong Custer is buried there.  His wife's travelling dress is in the museum.  

Fort Leavenworth is home to families with children.  There are schools, shops, playgrounds, a golf course, swimming pools and places to go fishing.  Since 1881 the Fort has been home to the Army Command and General Staff College which is now central to its mission.  So, too, is the Army Correctional Center.  The old prison sits near the top of the hill.  It now houses offices.  We ate lunch there in the 12th Brick Grill.  The food was good. The grill's location is in the heart of the old prison where you can see exposed the two foot thick stone walls. The new prison with its razor wire and gun towers it is in sharp contrast to the lovely historic houses and tree lined streets of "The best hometown in the Army".  Army Staff Sargent Robert Bales is incarcerated there, charged with 17 murders in Afghanistan. The prison reminds the visitor that the park-like setting on a hill top in east Kansas is much more than meets the eye.

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