CASSINO, Italy (NNS) -- More than 40 chief selects and chief petty officers from the Naples area visited World War II battle sites and memorials in Cassino, Italy, Aug. 22, to gain a sense of heritage and learn from military history.
The CPO 365 Phase II trip allowed the selectees to see the terrain, hear firsthand accounts and discuss lessons learned from battles that took place 70 years ago, as the Allies moved north through Italy pushing German forces back and diverting attention from the impending D-Day in Normandy, France.
Leadership, communication and terrain were recurring topics throughout the day as the group moved from site to site.
"It's important for the selectees to build that sense of heritage," said Chief Electronics Technician Andrew Bohnsack, from Task Force 69. "I think they've been soaking it up for the previous part of their career and now it's time for them to learn it and give it back to their Sailors."
Selectees took part in a visual demonstration to represent the losses suffered by the 36th 'Texas' Infantry Division. After listening to a detailed story about the death of their captain and how it affected his remaining troops, selectees moved into formation and sequentially took a knee to represent the heavy losses the National Guard division experienced while fighting for each hill and through each German line.
"Hear the words that are being said, then take them in and figure out what they mean," said Master Chief Fire Controlman Michael Fluent, from U.S. Naval Forces Europe-Africa/U.S. 6th Fleet. "What is the impact? What can we learn from that today? How can that change the way we do things today? Is there a lesson to be garnished from that? We are the keepers of tradition. We are the keepers of history."
The chiefs highlighted the passion and drive many U.S. service members had during that time, along with the Allies.
"We had people faking their birth certificates to get into the military to serve their country," said Fluent.
At each vantage point visited, the battlefield was laid out for everyone, to include positions of Allies and enemy forces.
"Everybody has a role to fill and even though you may be individuals, each individual brings something to the party that the other doesn't," said Chief (select) Intelligence Specialist Jeremy Anderson, from U.S. Naval Forces Europe-Africa/ U.S. 6th Fleet. "You can be a lot stronger and more effective as one cohesive unit."
After visiting the Polish Cemetery at Monte Cassino and listening to accounts of the fighting for Hill 593, a few participants said they didn't realize some of the detailed contributions other countries had, including the Polish who had traveled all the way down from Russia and were fighting for their homeland.
"Different places are important to different people at different times," said Bohnsack. "The Polish come down here because it's now a part of their history, part of their history is embedded in Cassino. Just the same thread that part of our history is embedded in northern France and at the cemetery at Anzio."
"I think you really appreciate the sacrifice of your forebearers, because it becomes real at that point," said Bohnsack. "Other than a story you read in a book, now you can walk the battlefield, you can see the abbey, you can visit the places you've only read about."
The CPO 365 Phase II trip finished with a visit to the Abbey of Monte Cassino, which was bombed heavily by the Allies during World War II and turned into a "muddle of dust."
Chief selects and chief petty officers took time to discuss their thoughts on the trip and provide examples of how lessons learned during World War II are still practical today.
"The Rapido River crossing, just hearing that story and how they had to overcome," said Chief (select) Cryptologic Technician (Networks) Victoria Redden, from U.S. Naval Forces Europe-Africa/U.S. 6th Fleet, when asked about the part of the trip that had the greatest impact. "The many, many acts of courage it took to cross that river, even as people were falling all around them. They just had to keep pushing and pushing to try and get through."
The main topic going into the CPO 365 Phase II trip was to not learn about history, but to learn from history.
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