Four-stars lead effort to build war on terrorism memorial

Retired Gen. John Abizaid, the longest-serving commander of U.S. Central Command, is teaming up with three other four-star generals to raise money for a war on terrorism memorial.

The memorial will be part of the National Infantry Museum near Fort Benning, Georgia. Officials hope to break ground on the project early next year.

“We’ve seen a lot of sacrifice, we’ve seen an awful lot of courage,” Abizaid said about the service members who have been fighting since the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks. “Those of us who led these great people want to honor them, and that’s what we’re trying to do.”

So far, the National Infantry Foundation has raised a little over $9 million, mostly from donors who are local to the Columbus, Georgia, area.

The hope is to grow that circle of people.

“The people in Columbus are very, very generous in their contributions to the museum,” Abizaid said. “[But] there are plenty of people in New York and Washington and Boston, San Francisco, who would like to give to this project, and I would like to be part of the solution to going around outside of Georgia and seeing how we can get people to contribute.”

The fundraising likely will kick off in earnest in October or November, Abizaid said, and the goal is to raise an additional $8 million.

The museum also has a link on its website for people who would like to donate directly.

Relying largely on donations, the $110 million National Infantry Museum opened its doors in 2009, said Col. Greg Camp (ret.), executive vice president of the National Infantry Foundation, which runs the museum.

Since it opened, the museum has welcomed just under 2 million visitors, or an average of a little more than 300,000 visitors each year, Camp said.

Because the museum only opened in 2009, its exhibits honoring those who’ve fought in the war on terrorism were cut off around the 2007 mark, Camp said.

In 2010, New York City firefighters donated to the museum a 14-foot steel beam from the ruins of the World Trade Center’s south tower, but there was no real place to display it, he said. It will now be incorporated into the memorial, he said.

“It’s taken us a while to sort through all the things that come up when you open up a big museum like this,” Camp said. “But we realize … we need to update [the exhibits], we need to honor the soldiers that are in the current fight better than we have.”

The museum’s board decided to recruit outside help to design the memorial, Camp said.

“Most of us who are involved in the museum are older, we’re mostly Vietnam-era veterans, so why don’t we get people who really know what this is about to help us and advise us on how we ought to portray this memorial?” he said.

Abizaid was a perfect fit, Camp said.

“Who knows the global war on terrorism better than him?” Camp said. “He commanded CENTCOM for four years at the heights of the conflicts there.”

Abizaid, a 1973 West Point graduate, spent 34 years in uniform, rising from an infantry platoon leader to four-star combatant commander. He studied and often served in the Middle East, and is widely considered to be an expert in the area of Middle Eastern affairs, according to his bio.

During his time at CENTCOM, Abizaid spent 54 months in combat zones and was responsible for military operations in 27 nations in the Arabian Peninsula and the Middle East, the Horn of Africa, and Central Asia.

Abizaid said he gladly accepted when the National Infantry Foundation asked him to get involved in the project.

“They’ve done a wonderful job with the museum, but they wanted to do something to honor those who’ve given their lives in the global war on terrorism, and they also wanted to upgrade the museum for the period since 9/11,” he said.

Abizaid decided to enlist three fellow retired generals “who all led troops in the Middle East” to help.

“We all served together, we all knew one another very well, we’re all infantrymen,” Abizaid said. “We all served together in tough times, and these three guys and myself, we all have a great sense of duty to honor those that have given their lives around the world for this tough fight that we’re in, which unfortunately is still not over.”

They are:

• Gen. George Casey (ret.), who was the commander of U.S. forces in Iraq for three years before becoming the Army chief of staff from 2007 to 2011.

• Gen. Stanley McChrystal (ret.), who commanded Joint Special Operations Command during the height of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and later became the top commander in Afghanistan. He spent more than seven years deployed in combat in a variety of positions.

• Gen. Charles Jacoby (ret.), who commanded troops in Afghanistan and Iraq, first as deputy commander of Combined Joint Task Force-76, responsible for the 18,000 troops conducting combat operations in Afghanistan, then later as commander of Multi-National Corps — Iraq, responsible for about 135,000 troops there. He commanded U.S. Northern Command before retiring.

“I think the four of us are all prepared to roll up our sleeves,” Abizaid said.

The memorial’s design has not been finalized, but officials are considering “several concepts,” Abizaid said.

It likely will include a by-name listing of the men and women killed serving their country since Sept. 11, 2001, and it will honor troops from all services.

“We want it to be simple, we want it to convey to all the seriousness of the business that we’re in as professional members of the armed forces,” he said. “We want it to honor those who have fallen. We want it to have the same type of impact that the Vietnam Memorial has to those who go back and take a look at it.”

The memorial will resonate with museum visitors young and old, Camp said.

“The main part of our mission is to honor the legacy of valor and sacrifice of the soldier, particularly the infantryman,” he said. “Our visitors who come today are very interested in the soldiers who’ve come before … but many of them are … hankering for information on this latest generation of soldiers.”

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