Fort Pickett, Va. — Family, friends and current and former Virginia National Guard Soldiers joined the leadership of Fort Pickett for the ribbon cutting and dedication of the Staff Sgt. Jesse Ault Wheeled Vehicle Obstacle Course Sept. 20, 2019, at Fort Pickett, Virginia. Ault was killed in action April 9, 2008, in Baghdad, Iraq, from wounds suffered when his vehicle encountered an improvised explosive device while assigned to the 429th Brigade Support Battalion.
Ault’s widow Betsy attended the ceremony with their two children, and was joined by current and former Soldiers who served with him.
Those who knew and served with Ault, who was a motor transport operator, said they couldn’t think of a more fitting honor for the Soldier, husband and father who gave his life for the cause of freedom.
“I think it’s wholly appropriate that Jesse’s name is on it,” said Lt. Col. Mike Waterman, who was Ault’s company commander on a previous deployment to Iraq. “He was a great Soldier and a great driver. The fact that it’s here to train Soldiers is appropriate because Jesse was dedicated to that, not just his mission, but making those around him better.”
“We were actually training troops when he was killed,” said Channing Lynch, Ault’s assistant convoy commander the day of the attack.
The obstacle course has been open for about a year, and its construction was a joint venture between Fort Pickett and the Fort Pickett-based 183rd Regiment, Regional Training Institute. It is one of only three Army-wide, and the only one in the National Guard. It consists of 9 challenging obstacles over a two-mile course through the woods of Fort Pickett, a place that has special meaning to the Ault family.
“My favorite photo was always one of my grandfather standing in front of the gym, back in the 40’s, with his brother before he left for Korea,” explained Betsy. “One of the people here managed to get a picture of me and Jesse standing in that exact same spot, and it’s the very first time Jesse ever spoke to me. I didn’t realize that’s what they caught in the picture.
“So for them to put his name here is priceless. Fort Pickett actually means a lot to me.”
Unveiled during the dedication is a large sign with Ault’s name marking the start of the obstacle course. The sign hangs between two pillars made of marble slabs. That marble has special significance, Maj. Gen. Timothy P. Williams, the Adjutant General of Virginia, told the crowd assembled for the ceremony.
“This marble was used at the dawn of this installation, hewn by German prisoners of war during World War II. It was used to mark boundaries,” said Williams. “Now It’s being used for very specific things on this installation. That sign behind us tells a story of our Army. I think it’s very appropriate that today we use the remainder of that marble to tell the story of Jesse Ault.”
The course and the sign were built with the help of Maneuver Training Center Fort Pickett’s Department of Public Works. Col. Paul Gravely, garrison commander of MTC Fort Pickett, said he’s proud of his staff for making it all come together to honor Ault.
“I’m proud of my staff, who are able to put together these kinds of projects. Their efforts show the diversity and dedication of the Virginia National Guard Soldier,” said Gravely. “To me it’s a testament to the kind of Soldier that Jesse Ault represents, and it represents how he would have wanted a soldier to perform. I’m very proud to dedicate this course to him, and I know that the gentlemen who built it are very proud to dedicate it to him. There is no one more befitting.”
“Whenever students come here, we’re going to make sure they know the story of Staff Sgt. Ault,” said Col. Todd Hubbard, commander of the 183rd RTI. “We’ll continue to perpetuate his memory and ensure that everyone understands the important role he played in our nation’s defense.”
To know that his name will live on at Fort Pickett would have made Ault proud, according to the Soldiers he served with.
“Knowing Ault the way I knew Ault, I know that he would never think that anybody would put this kind of effort into something like this, and I know he’ll appreciate that,” Lynch said during the ceremony. “He was a very humble man, and so this is really awesome that you guys did this.”
“He’s certainly missed dearly, and it’s great that until the end of time, Jesse’s name will be on something special here at Fort Pickett,” added Waterman.
After the ceremony, the Ault family was able experience the obstacle course in vehicles provided by 183rd RTI. The obstacle course will primarily be used by students of the 183rd RTI training to become motor transport operators. It consists of nine obstacles designed to challenge drivers in a variety of ways. They include steep declines and inclines, ditches, moguls, rocky terrain and a sand pit.
Ault, a citizen of Dublin, Virginia, who was 28 at the time of his death in 2008, grew up in West Virginia, where he excelled at sports and eventually joined the Army with his best friend. He served four years active duty before moving to Virginia and joining the National Guard. He met Betsy, who was also in the Guard, during training in 2002. Prior to being mobilized, Ault worked in construction and contracting with Morris Construction.
Ault was also honored by a General Assembly resolution and a ceremony in Dublin in 2009. That resolution can be read in full here: http://leg1.state.va.us/cgi-bin/legp504.exe?091+ful+SJ386ER