of the Secretary
| For Immediate
Release: March 31, 2003
South Interior Building played a major military role during World War II
WASHINGTON -- Secretary of the Interior Gale A. Norton announced today that employees of the Interior Department have adopted the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) and the 10th Mountain Division (Light Infantry), as their military units for volunteer activities in support of unit family members.
The 101st Airborne Division, known as the 'Screaming Eagles,' is headquartered at Fort Campbell Ky. and the 10th Mountain Division, known as the 'Polar Bears' is headquartered at Fort Drum, N.Y. Norton made the announcement at the Interior Department's South Building during a special ceremony and rally to honor and support the patriotism, valor, fidelity and professionalism of our service men and women, serving at home and around the world.
"Many of our employees serve as reservists or guardsmen and some have been called to active duty," Norton said. "This is our way of showing our support and how much we appreciate the important job our service men and women perform while protecting America and the freedoms we enjoy."
Today's ceremony is the official kickoff for the DOI support our troops volunteer program. Over the weeks and months ahead, the group will work with the 101st headquarters, Operation Eagle's Nest and Operation Helping Hand. Operation Eagle's Nest is a fund established by the 101st to assist the deployed soldiers' families with emergency needs and unexpected repairs. Operation Helping Hand assists family members with emergency food needs and baby supplies. Assistance includes Thanksgiving and Christmas food baskets and a variety of other last-minute needs.
The idea of showing support for the troops developed out of a small group of DOI employees. The employees formed a task force of volunteers to look into how employees could best show their support and appreciation for America's Armed Forces. The task force will now serve as the work group to spearhead the department's efforts in helping the families of DOI employees on active duty, as well the family members of the Screaming Eagles.
"When the employees approached me with their proposal, I was both thrilled and supportive," Norton said. "I am proud of our men and women in uniform and the employees of this remarkable department."
Norton added that the Department of the Interior will waive the employee share of the Federal Employee Health Benefit Program premiums for Department employees called to active duty. "That way, health benefits for the family can continue, with the federal government covering the full cost," she said.
As part of today's ceremony, Secretary Norton and family members of employees called to active duty unveiled a giant American flag and a banner that read: U.S. Department of the Interior, Proud of Our Troops. "This banner will be evidence that we stand behind our troops; that we thank them and their families for the sacrifices they are making on our behalf in Operation Iraqi Freedom," Norton said.
The 101st is formed of three
brigades plus Division Artillery, Division Support Command, the 101st
Aviation Brigade, 159th Aviation Brigade, 101st Corps Support Group
and several separate commands. The 20,000-soldier unit bills itself
as the "only air assault division in the world" and has the
ability to conduct air assault operations and long-range helicopter
The ceremony was held at the South Interior Building because the building was used by the military during World War II. It first served as the Public Health Services headquarters. Later because of its close proximity to various military offices, the PHS building was selected to house the offices of the Combined Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The role of these two groups in the war was to coordinate British-American military operations. President Roosevelt made the announcement on January 30, 1942, saying the Public Health Service Building was to be renamed the Combined Chiefs of Staff Building. It was here that the British representatives met regularly with the U.S. Chiefs of Staff, most of whom had offices in the Navy buildings across Constitution Avenue.
Later, the Combined Chiefs of Staff Building was the site of the planning for the Manhattan Project, which developed the atomic bomb. The planning was done in a temporary wooden structure, atop the two story center wing of the building. The Manhattan Project was so important that the building was sealed, and sharpshooters maintained a round the clock vigil to guard it.
In 1947, when the war was over, the Combined Chiefs were disbanded, and the newly created Atomic Energy Commission moved into the building. Quite possibly the allocation was made because of the high security arrangements that had been necessary during the war years. The Atomic Energy Commission remained in the building until August 1958, when the National Science Foundation took it over as the center for its program of administering and financing research at colleges and universities across the country. The NSF, was in turn, succeeded by the Department of the Interior, whose Bureau of Indian Affairs moved in during April 1965.