Colonel Frank Sturek and Ryan Thompson at new 4th U.S. Infantry Monument
"A handshake and a thank you would have been too much!" - Ryan Thompson
I knew the unveiling of the 4th Infantry Monument was going to be a memorable weekend. Little did I know…
I arrived at the National Infantry Museum in Columbus, GA, at the entrance of Ft. Benning on the morning of Oct 9, 2021, at 9:45 am. After asking an employee of the museum where the unveiling was taking place, I was picked up by a golf cart and driven to the location, down the Walk of Honor a few hundred yards from the museum entrance.
Colonel Frank Sturek and his wife Julie saw me arrive and quickly came over to say hello. After a few introductions, it was time to start the ceremony. I had a reserved seat in the front row, right next to Colonel Sturek and Julie. This was when I began to feel that the event was going to be even more special than I thought.
I wanted to just be a fly on the wall for the ceremony and was about to give up my seat to a soldier so I could disappear in the back. I did not feel deserving of a front-row seat, next to the Colonel, with so many of our nation's heroes in attendance. (In total, there were 95 people. About half were soldiers, and half were family members.)
The ceremony began with an Invocation and the Color Guard posting the Nations colors and the US Army Colors, followed by the singing of our National Anthem. Next, Colonel Sturek took the podium to commemorate the day with the history of the 4th Infantry, the challenges that they had to overcome to build the monument and to thank the entire 10th Mountain Whiskey & Spirit Company team for our efforts.
Richard Wideman, the 4th Infantry Regiment Association President, followed Colonel Sturek at the podium and announced it was time to pull back the drapery covering the monument.
Colonel Sturek rose out of his seat, looked at me, and said, "Alright, Ryan, let's do this."
I thought to myself….' Wait - - what. You want ME to help unveil the monument?!" Again, I thought this honor was better suited for one of the soldiers in attendance, but Colonel Sturek insisted I help him.
He grabbed one side of the drapery I grabbed the other, and together we pulled it back, revealing an incredible monument to honor the 4th Infantry. The crowd clapped, and phones came out to capture the moment on camera.
As I was admiring the monument from all angles, I looked down and noticed something completely unexpected. It was so surprising I had to get closer to take a better look. Sure enough, to my surprise, our company name was engraved on the monument. Right there on this beautiful monument to honor the 4th Infantry, a monument that will forever stand tall along the Walk of Honor outside the National Infantry Museum, was engraved our company name "10th Mountain Whiskey and Spirits Company". I lost my breath.
I looked to Colonel Sturek, thanked him, and told him that it was completely unexpected and unnecessary to engrave our company name on the monument. However, it was indeed an honor of ours to help the 4th Infantry with this monument. Colonel Sturek gave me a grin and said, 'Oh, that's not all, just wait….' I had no idea what that meant, but I did know that everything that had already happened was too much recognition already.
After an hour or so of taking pictures and meeting the soldiers around the monument, we assembled inside a reserved room in the National Infantry Museum for cake and coffee.
A few more remarks were made then Colonel Sturek walked to the front of the room. He recognized another gentleman in attendance that helped with the monument then asked if I could come up.
I thought I would be able to say a few remarks and express my gratitude and our company's gratitude for being able to support the 4th Infantry.
Colonel Sturek starts giving a biography about me and telling the audience about 10th Mountain Whiskey & Spirit Company. I was thinking to myself, 'Damn, he's done his homework. How does he know all of this?'
Colonel Sturek explained he had discussions with the Brigadier General, Chief of Infantry, Larry Burris, about nominating me to become the first civilian to be an Honorary Member of the 4th Infantry. The General agreed, Colonel Sturek agreed, and by Order of the Secretary of the Army, I was designated an Honorary Member of the 4th Infantry Regiment. I had no idea this was happening and still am in disbelief writing this. It was completely unexpected.
After the applause died down, Colonel Sturek said he wasn't done. There was another recognition he'd like to present me. He then explained the Order of Saint Maurice that was established in 1994 as a joint venture between the National Infantry Association and the US Army Infantry Branch.
The Order of Saint Maurice recognizes individuals who have contributed significantly to the promotion of the Infantry as recognized by the individual's seniors, subordinates, and peers. These individuals must also demonstrate the highest standards of integrity and moral character, an outstanding degree of professional competence, and serve the Infantry and its community with distinction.
Colonel Sturek presented me with the framed certificate recognizing the Order and draped the Order's medallion around my neck, shook my hand, and said thank you.
I was at a loss for words. Again, none of this was expected. I wanted to be a fly on the wall.
Once the applause died down, I thanked all of the soldiers in the room on behalf of our company.
I reiterated that we are all very conscious that if they didn't do what they do, we wouldn't be able to do what we do...live free, ski a great mountain, and make great spirits.
The afternoon concluded with a private tour of the museum with Colonel Sturek and the museum's curator.
After the tour, I returned to our reserved room to pick up my belongings and recognitions. A stout-looking gentleman was sitting by my things with no one else at the table. When I approached him, he stood up and shook my hand. It hit me then that he had been watching over my belongings for the 2 hours I was on tour, ensuring they were in safekeeping. Again, no words.
I was invited to dinner with Colonel Sturek and six other Colonels and Command Sergeant Majors a few hours later. We had a great meal together, and I got to hear some fantastic war stories.
After dinner, we joined the other soldiers in a hotel conference room close by. They were enjoying some 10th Mountain Whiskey and reminiscing about their time spent together.
I had a chance to thank them again and deliver the toast on the side of our Rye bottle. Most of the soldiers came up to me to say thank you to myself and our entire team. This was too much.
A handshake and a thank you was too much, especially when you wanted to just be a fly on the wall.
It's a weekend I'll never forget, and I'm so damn proud of the 10th Mountain Whiskey & Spirit Company team!