Following on from our very successful and enjoyable integration with the 1-175th Infantry of the Maryland National Guard, we had the opportunity to enjoy some wonderful American hospitality and undertake a number of cultural visits. We started with an invitation from the Command Sergeant Major (RSM), to attend a family BBQ at his home to celebrate the end of their ADE and Memorial Day. Among the guests were the CO, senior officers, former members of the batallion and their families. We enjoyed a traditional backyard party except this backyard was considerably bigger than your usual British back garden at 7 acres and complete with pool.
Friendships formed in the field were cemented here. It was a great experience, particularly for the soldiers, to enjoy the real America in a familial setting and an informal opportunity to thank our hosts for their generosity, hospitality and professionalism.
The following day we travelled to Baltimore to meet the new Adjutant General of the Maryland National Guard, Maj Gen Birckhead at the historic and enormous Baltimore Armory, HQ of the MDNG. Her staff extended wonderful American hospitality with a special spread in our honour including tea and cakes and a goodie bag of traditional Maryland made foods, a much appreciated gesture. Following our meeting we were given a guided tour of the MDNG museum where the knowledgable staff explained much about American military history and the answered our many questions. The wars of 1776 and 1812 were quickly glossed over though with good natured banter!
That afternoon we had the opportunity to visit the site of a more recent episode in US military history which holds a significant place in American history, Gettysburg, the site of the pivitol battle in the American Civil War. Gettyburg itself is a delightful town, full of picturesque historic buildings and is one of the top 10 places to live in the US. After lunch and a look around the town we travelled a couple of miles out to the site of the battle itself. One thing none of us realised was just how big the battlefield was - 16 square miles - and littered with monuments and memorials to the units who fought there and those who died. It was a truly remarkable place and left us with much to think about.
Next day we travelled to Washington DC stopping first at Arlington National Cemetery, resting place to 400,000 former servicemen and women as well as Presidents Taft and Kennedy. It's a beautifully kept peaceful spot on top of a hill overlooking DC providing some outstanding views of the Capital.
JFK was overheard to say "It's so nice here I could stay forever" which is why his wife chose the site for his final resting place after his assassination. From there we walked down the hill into Washington, crossed the Memorial Bridge into DC and stopped first at the Lincoln Memorial before walking through Constitution Gardens visiting the various war memorials including the Vietnam Wall and the WW2 memorial before stopping at the Washington Monument. We then headed down to the White House followed by a spot of lunch before heading to the House Offfice Buildings by the US Capitol Building where we met up with the wife of one of our colleagues in the 175th for an impromptu and special behind the scenes tour of the Capitol building. We made our way across to Capitol Hill via the underground tunnels connecting it with the House Offices and then into the Capitol building itself. We were shown the old parts of the building including the old Senate chambers and the spot where Washington was to have been laid to rest except that he thought it was too creepy so was buried on his estate instead. We then entered the magnificent Rotunda under the dome which is the rival to many older buildings in Europe for it's grandeur and splendour then on to a rare honour, the chance to enter the House chamber itself and observe a debate in progress from the viewing gallery.
Next morning it was time to move on to our final destination for a couple of days, New York. Things didn't go quite to plan to start with as the wildfires in Canada smothered the north east with thick yellow smoke and New York was right in the middle of it. As a result the Yankess games we were due to see was cancelled so we hopped on the Statten Island ferry and saw the Statue of Liberty instead, albeit shrouded in smoke. The following morning the smoke had cleared giving us the chance to see the sights in glorious sunshine. We started with a visit to the USS Intrepid, a WW2/Vietnam era aircraft carrier which is now a museum after which the troops took in much of Manhattan, Central Park, 5th Avenue, the Empire State Building, the Brooklyn Bridge and much more. We finished our trip with a visit to the 9-11 memorial at the World Trade Centre to pay our respects on our final morning before heading to Philadelphia to catch the plane home after a fantastic time training with our American friends and visiting some wonderful, interesting and historic places.