There were no balloons or confetti to celebrate the new National Infantry Museum's fifth birthday last week. No marching bands or presents or parties. Not because the anniversary is insignificant, but because there is still so much to do to fully achieve our mission of honoring Soldiers past, present and future, and we must never lose sight of our purpose.
If a Soldier's job is never done, then neither is ours. While American service members are still at war, we must continue to salute them every day. And if there comes a time when all of the battlefields have gone quiet, we must continue to sound the horns for all those young men and women who gave so much to earn that peace.
The National Infantry Museum has made great strides toward fulfilling its mission in its first five years. Visitor after visitor, from every corner of the nation, stops to thank us for thanking Soldiers. They tell us that the museum reminds them of the sacrifices our service members make. They tell us how meaningful it is to aging loved ones to relive their defining moments as a young Soldier. And they tell us how much they appreciate the opportunity to teach their children about the price their country has paid for freedom.
In the past five years, the museum has welcomed dozens of dignitaries and VIPs, from top-level Army leaders to world-famous philanthropists to celebrities. Each has expressed awe tinged with surprise after approaching the dramatic rotunda and Follow Me statue. Many have wiped away tears after hearing the incredible stories of our unsung heroes.
The museum has received much praise in its first five years. The Burbank, California-based Themed Entertainment Association awarded the museum its equivalent of the Oscars "for excellence in the creation of extraordinary visitor experiences, attractions, exhibits and places." At the awards ceremony, the only recipient all evening to receive a standing ovation was Fort Benning Command Sergeant Major Chris Hardy, who accepted the award on behalf of the museum. It was clear at that moment that the museum was being honored not just for its impressive displays and exhibits, but for its primary purpose of honoring Soldiers.
Since General Colin Powell cut the ribbon on the museum in 2009, more than 1.6 million visitors - averaging more than 300,000 per year - have come from all corners of the country and abroad. In 2013, the museum hosted 239 scout, school, church and club tours, and 185 Infantry trainee class tours. Every Thursday and Friday, hundreds of new Soldiers graduated on the parade field and thousands of their friends and family members traveled here to witness it. Countless veterans came to revisit their past and remember lost buddies.
Every visit proves that the museum has become much more than a museum. It has become a place to learn, a place to gather, a place to honor, a place to remember. With the continued support of the community and the Chattahoochee Valley, this treasure will grow to become America's finest military museum.
Carmen Cavezza, retired Lieutenant General, former commanding general of Fort Benning and former Columbus city manager, is chairman and chief executive officer of the National Infantry Foundation.