Lt. Gen. Sean MacFarland, III Corps and Fort Hood commander, and Col. Todd Fox, post garrison commander, joined the family members of one of the 1st Cavalry Division’s heroes on Tuesday to celebrate the opening of the Master Sgt. Mike Castaneda Pena Training Support Center.
The new 160,975 square-foot, $24 million facility will support soldiers’ training requirements by providing training aids, devices and simulators. It also allows for consolidation of many former training support facilities, resulting in a greater than 50 percent reduction of buildings spread across the installation.
In addition, the facility will serve to enhance military-civilian community relations such as Boy’s and Girl’s Scouts, local community organization visits, spouse camaraderie events and more.
“This (facility) consolidates what was previously housed in three World War II facilities, two warehouses, one mobile training area and the Engagement Skills Trainers,” Fox said.
The new center also allowed Fort Hood to divest three temporary shelters that were beyond their normal life cycles; will enable training across multiple military occupation specialties, serving to train soldiers from small arms trainers to hone marksmanship skills; training devices which allow armored soldiers and air defenders to simulate force-on-force exercises; and field artillerymen to train on call for fire by simulating observed fire exercises, he said.
And the new center could not been named after a more fitting soldier, Fox said.
“I won’t go through his complete biography ... But I do want to share some of the highlights of the service of Master Sgt. Pena,” he said. “By my reckoning, he actually entered the Army before his 16th birthday (on Sept. 13, 1940). That’s pretty impressive — I have a 15-year-old son, and we’re just fine with him at home, to be honest.”
In May 1943, Pena was sent to the Pacific theater under the command of Gen. Douglas MacArthur, participating in the island-hopping campaign with the 1st Cavalry Division. He fought at Oro Bay, New Guinea and Los Negros Island in the Admiralty Islands before heading to the Philippines.
Pena fought with the “Flying Column of Cavalrymen” across a 100-mile path of enemy territory to be the first in Manila and would later participate in the liberation of the Santo Tomas Internment Camp. He earned two Purple Heart Medals before the end of World War II and was a sergeant at age 19.
The young soldier participated in the occupation of Japan after the war and was soon sent to combat again with the 1st Cavalry Division to Korea.
A master sergeant at the age of 25, Pena was killed in action defending his soldiers on Sept. 5, 1950, at Waegwan, Korea. According to his citation, his platoon was overrun by an enemy battalion under the cover of night and forced to lose ground.
Pena rapidly organized a counterattack against the much larger force and retook the positions they had just lost. Realizing their ammunition was running low, Pena ordered his men to fall back and manned a machine gun to cover their withdrawal. He single-handedly held back the superior enemy force until the early hours of the following morning, when his position was finally overrun and he was killed.
For his actions, Pena was awarded his third Purple Heart Medal and the Army Distinguished Service Cross. On March 18, 2014, the service cross was upgraded to the Medal of Honor.
“That is the type of selfless service and commitment to his fellow soldiers that we honor today with the dedication of the Training Support Center,” Fox said. “Master Sgt. Mike Pena, a boy who became a soldier before his 16th birthday, served his nation in two wars, was wounded in combat three times and ultimately gave his life to save the lives of his men — truly an incredible individual. His legacy will serve to inspire the soldiers who train here.”
Pena’s son, Michael David Pena, was 3 when his father was killed in combat. And while he never really knew his father — and had a rough time growing up without him — the legacy his father left inspires him and fills him with pride, he said.
“It is such an honor to have a building named after my father,” he said. “I couldn’t be more proud to be here on this day. It has been a long time in coming.”
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