After undergoing an 18-month training process, the eight men and one woman were commissioned as second lieutenants during a ceremony Saturday at the Marietta Hilton Conference Center on Powder Springs Street.
The event included a pinning ceremony where family and friends attached epaulets to the new officers’ uniforms that each had one gold bar on them — signifying the Guardsmen’s new rank. Music was performed by the 116th Army Band, and colors were presented by Kennesaw Mountain High School’s ROTC.
Mayor Steve Tumlin estimated about 350 to 450 people attended the event. “The Guard serves us so well,” he said, adding as both mayor and as a person, he has a good relationship with the institute.
King Springs Elementary School student Damon Pierce III was very proud of his father Damon Pierce who oversees security at the Joint National Services Headquarters at the Clay National Guard Center just south of Dobbins Air Reserve Base.
“He’s worked really hard and didn’t give up, no matter what they threw at him,” the child said.
The elder Pierce, 40, said he joined the Army right out of high school in 1993, where he was active duty for four years before joining the Reserves for another three. He then focused on his civilian career as a police officer, but decided to go back into the service because he could “crosstrain” his jobs with the leadership, training and educational benefits the military was able to provide. He’s looking forward to obtaining more training and leading others.
Pierce said he feels a kinship with his classmates. “We’ve been on missions where we’ve been able to bond together,” he said. “We started out not really knowing each other, but now, we’re like family.”
This is the third stint in the military for Pierce’s classmate Danial Sims, 37, of Marietta. He first joined the Army in 1996 where he worked with communications equipment and attained the rank of sergeant. He later joined the Naval Reserves. Ten years later, the insurance firm worker opted to come back to the military for the help it provides with paying college expenses as well as “being able to lead some troops and guide them on their way.”
Sims said one particular officer greatly influenced his life and he’d like to be like him.
“I’ve seen some bad ones and I’ve seen some good ones,” Sims said.
Moving forward, Sims will be working in military intelligence, where he said he’ll gather information for other companies to succeed in their missions. He hopes to stay in the military long enough to make the rank of major, or even beyond.
The location of Saturday’s commissioning ceremony was significant because the conference center stands on the grounds of the institute’s original campus, which trained cadets from 1855 through the Civil War. After cadets were sent to fight in Resaca in 1864, the buildings were razed by Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman’s troops after the Battle of Kennesaw Mountain. The institute was reformed as an officer training school in Forsyth in 1961, and has since been located in Milledgeville, Macon and then finally back in Marietta in 2008.
To commemorate the institute’s role in the Civil War, nine Kennesaw Mountain students dressed in period outfits to show what typical Confederate soldiers would have looked like, with one wearing a uniform similar to what cadets at the school would have worn.
Historian Michael Shaffer of Kennesaw shared facts about the institute as well. He said after Sherman had the buildings burned, the top soil on the school’s grounds was used at what is now Marietta National Cemetery off of Roswell Street.
Tumlin said the blending of the ceremony with the city’s yearlong tribute to the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Kennesaw Mountain was especially meaningful.
“(Marietta) has such an attachment with history,” he said.