Fort Pickett training site named for 183rd RTI instructor

Family members of Master Sgt. Patrick R. McFarland join together with Virginia National Guard Soldiers Nov. 13, 2015, at Fort Pickett, Va., for a site dedication ceremony in honor of McFarland, who passed away unexpectedly in September. (Photo by Sgt. 1st Class Terra C. Gatti, Virginia Guard Public Affairs)

Family members of Master Sgt. Patrick R. McFarland join together with Virginia National Guard Soldiers Nov. 13, 2015, at Fort Pickett, Va., for a site dedication ceremony in honor of McFarland, who passed away unexpectedly in September. (Photo by Sgt. 1st Class Terra C. Gatti, Virginia Guard Public Affairs)

FORT PICKETT, Va. — Just past Fort Pickett’s 183rd Regiment, Regional Training Institute, a crowd of Soldiers, family members and friends gathered under blue skies to celebrate the life of Master Sgt. Patrick R. McFarland, who was the 88M Motor Transport Operator course manager when he passed away unexpectedly in September. The ceremony, held Nov. 13, 2015, was organized in order to dedicate and name a key 88M training location as “Mac’s Hill” in McFarland’s honor. The event also allowed several members of McFarland’s family to visit his office, still untouched by his fellow Soldiers since his death, as well as to see some of the sites where he assisted in training hundreds of Soldiers.

Lt. Col. Travis Mabrey, commander of 2nd Battalion, 183rd Regiment, Regional Training Institute, opened the ceremony.

“Many of the Soldiers you see driving today are driving because of Master Sgt. McFarland,” Mabrey said. “I can’t tell you how proud we all are and you can see by the crowd gathered here today how much he meant to all of us.”

Following his remarks, Mabrey introduced Sgt. 1st Class Michelle Homer, a fellow 88M cadre member who counted McFarland as a close friend. She spoke first about the military accomplishments achieved by McFarland during his more than 24 years of service in the Virginia Army National Guard before explaining why the dedication site was chosen.

“Some of the things that Master Sgt. McFarland did right up here on this pad, was instruct Soldiers,” Homer said. She explained that a significant portion of the 88M course was formerly conducted about 15-20 minutes away from the RTI, at one of Fort Pickett’s maneuver areas, which necessitated multiple daily trips back and forth from the RTI to the training site. Homer explained that McFarland suggested using the concrete pad, formerly a barracks site, right next to the RTI’s motor pool for the training which he realized would save valuable training time. Thanks to McFarland’s suggestion, the 88M students now use the site to train on loading and unloading racks and trailers, as well as the basics of big truck driving, including how to turn and back up the massive vehicles to a loading dock.

“For me, it’s very personal that we dedicate something like this site because he was a big part of making this part of our training,” Homer said. “On any given day, Mac spent 10 or 11 hours out here.”

Homer talked briefly about what McFarland meant to her, as a fellow noncommissioned officer.

“Everybody took his lead,” she said. “You wanted to make him proud. He gave you the skills and everything else you needed to do the job and you just did it because you wanted to see that big smile on his face at the end of the day.”

Following Homer’s remarks, Staff Sgt. Travis Zeoli addressed the crowd, reminding them first of a few of McFarland’s favorite sayings.

“Mac trained me. I can do anything on these trucks that I want to do,” Zeoli said. “And I’ve followed Mac everywhere and if it wasn’t for Mac, I wouldn’t be what I am today.”

Zeoli told the crowd that McFarland had always been there for him during difficult times in his life, that being friends with McFarland was an exceptional and important thing.

“Mac was a brother to me,” Zeoli said.

Following the remarks from Soldiers who served with McFarland, several members of his family came forward to hang the sign that designated the training site as “Mac’s Hill,” dedicated in honor of McFarland, with a short biography highlighting his military accomplishments and hung on supports decked in the transportation colors, yellow and red.

McFarland, a native of Brunswick County, Va., enlisted in the Virginia Army National Guard in April 1991, as a cannoneer crew member. Over the course of his more than 24 years in the Virginia Army National Guard, McFarland was assigned to 1st Battalion, 111th Field Artillery Regiment, 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, the Emporia-based 1710th Transportation Company, 529th Combat Support Sustainment Battalion, 329th Regional Support Group and 2nd Battalion, 183rd Regiment, Regional Training Institute where assisted in the training of hundreds of Soldiers.

Leadership positions held by McFarland include team leader, squad leader, platoon sergeant, assistant convoy command, senior instructor and course manager. Over the course of his career in addition to basic training and initial training he also attended the 88M Motor Transport Operator Course, Primary Leadership Course, the Basic Noncommissioned Officer Course, 88M Senior Leadership Course, Advanced Basic Instructor Course, Small Group Instructor Training Course, the Cadre Training Course, Master Driver Qualification Course and the MRAP-University Operator Course.

His awards and decorations include the Bronze Star Medal, two Army Commendation Medals, four Army Achievement Medals, the National Defense Service Medal, the Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, the Armed Forces Reserve Medal with “M” device, the NCO Professional Development Ribbon, the Army Service Ribbon, the Overseas Service Ribbon, a Meritorious Unit Citation and the Driver Wheeled Vehicle Badge.

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Photos: RTI instructor remembered at dedication ceremony – Nov. 13, 2015