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Fort Gillem general retires after 37 years of service

By Joel Hall

jhall@news-daily.com

On a balmy Friday afternoon, as three-star, Lt. Gen. Russel L. Honoré stood ready to relinquish command of the First Army at Ft. Gillem in preparation for retirement, he recalled the 37 years of his life dedicated to serving the military.

In good spirits, he also recalled the strain the life of a decorated soldier had taken on his family, particularly his wife, Beverly. Honoré shared a story of one night when he and his wife were racing to a ceremony in which he was being promoted.

"My wife asked me, 'Do you love me more than the Army?,'" said Honoré. After some thought, Honoré responded, "If I loved you as much as I love the Army, you probably couldn't stand it. You'd probably have 12 or 13 kids."

In an intricate ceremony at the Ft. McPherson training field, the many units of the First Army stood poised under hundreds of flags as Honoré relinquished command to incoming Lt. Gen. Thomas G. Miller.

Miller said that before taking over as the new commander, he was often on the receiving end of Honoré's more "colorful" phone calls. Miller described Honoré as someone highly dedicated to creating leaders in the Army.

"There was never a mistake as to who was on the phone," said Miller. "Whenever he called, it was always something about preparing the soldiers.

"You can leave here with your head high and I think you know that," Miller said to Honoré during the ceremony. "You will always have a home back at First Army."

Nationally, Honoré is known as the "John Wayne dude" who became the face of the relief effort after Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast in 2005. His take charge, no-nonsense style of leadership transformed the relief effort in New Orleans from a hectic scattershot into a deliberate, organized effort.

Locally, however, Honoré has served another vital purpose. Since 2004, Honoré has served as the commander of the First Army at Ft. Gillem, one of the most vital military training facilities in the country.

First Army has played a crucial role in the War on Terror. Since the Sept. 11 attacks, First Army has trained nearly 500,000 battle-ready soldiers.

At its peak, First Army trained six out of ten soldiers deploying to the war front. Currently, 40 percent of U.S. soldiers serving in foreign wars received their training from First Army.

Honoré is known most by the Army for his "Theater Immersion" training methodology, in which he re-created hostile battlefields in Iraq and Afghanistan to teach soldiers how to "train like they fight." Over the course of his career, Honoré has prepared nearly a quarter of a million soldiers for combat.

After 37 years, leaving the Army would be hard to do, said Honoré. While retired, Honoré said he would work to influence local and federal governments to create a "culture of preparedness."

"I'm going to miss it," said Honoré. "The Army has been my life. I've almost neglected my family for the Army.

"It's been my passion to look after my troops and accomplish my mission," Honoré continued. "I'm looking forward now to making up a little time. If the guards see me at the gate [at Ft. Gillem] on Monday, tell them to turn me around."

With Ft. Gillem scheduled to close completely by 2011, Honoré said that First Army would be transferred to a base in Rock Island, Ill.

"That's going to be a hard move for First Army, but it was one that was out of our control and it supports a greater plan by the Department of Defense," to consolidate the efforts of the Army, said Honoré. "I'm sure from that great problem will be great opportunities ... to turn that place from an area of preparing for war ... to an area that represents the results of war -- peace.

"It will become a place where people can live and work and create jobs ... hopefully that will happen to Ft. Gillem," Honoré said.