A ceremony perpetuating one of the U.S. military's most significant traditions took place at the Maryville Community Center Saturday when Lt. Col. Terry Mast formally relinquished command of the National Guard's 129th Field Artillery Regiment to its new leader, Maj. Timothy A. Strohman.
Known as the 1-129th, the regiment is part of the Field Artillery Branch of the U.S. Army with only the 1st Battalion currently constituted as an active unit.
Though it's not always obvious to local residents, who usually think of the center as a place to work out, or as a venue for various banquets and exhibitions, the facility serves as headquarters for the regiment, whose storied history dates to World War I.
It was during the War to End All Wars that the 129th's Battery D was led in combat by a young, glasses-wearing captain from Independence named Harry S. Truman, who in 1945 became president of the United States.
Today, the 1-129th, which consists of a headquarters company, three firing batteries and a logistics company comprising a total of more than 500 soldiers, is still officially recognized as "Truman's Own."
That bit of presidential heritage, along with the unit's more recent history of service in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, in war-torn Kosovo and in support of the war in Afghanistan, was front and center during Saturday's change-of-command ceremony.
Dressed in starched camouflage uniforms and desert boots, a detachment of about 60 Guardsmen stood at attention behind the regimental guidon as Mast and Strohman marched into the armory gymnasium with their boss, Col. William Ward, the brigade commander, who arrived in Maryville by helicopter.
Though stiffly precise and filled with protocol, the ceremony also contained a considerable undercurrent of emotion as Mast, who in civilian life works as a Missouri State Highway Patrol supervisor near Springfield, bid farewell to the men and women who had served under him for the past three years.
"The true success of my command was in nothing that I did, but in what my soldiers did for me," he said.
In remarks both prior to and during the ceremony, Mast spoke of the stresses and strains Guardsmen face while serving a nation that has been continuously at war for more than a decade. They are, he said, in every sense real soldiers.
"The old adage about being weekend warriors no longer applies," Mast said.
Now that his tenure with the 1-129th has ended, Mast is being reassigned to Jefferson City, where he will serve as the Missouri Guard's point man for anti-terrorism and force protection.
Ward paid tribute to Mast's work in leading the 1-129th by calling the unit "one of the top, if not the top, unit in the state" in terms of training and readiness.
Page 2 of 2 - "We have the best artillery in the world," Ward said, "and the 129th is one of the best of the best."
Strohman, who lives in metropolitan Kansas City, comes from a military family and began his career in uniform in 1991 as an enlisted man. He subsequently attended Officer Candidate School and holds college degrees from the University of Central Missouri and Baker University.
He formerly served as the 1-129th's operations officer, a position that gave him day-to-day responsibility for unit training and readiness.
"I am humbled by the honor, and I understand the responsibility that comes with it," Strohman said.
Like Mast, the new commander commended the families of soldiers for showing "true character" at a time when Guard members face frequent, and sometimes lengthy, deployments.
"We will continue to take care of one another," he said, "… and I know that all of you will continue to be the best soldiers you can possibly be."