10 things you should know about Fort Benning

lgordon@ledger-enquirer.comMay 23, 2010 

1. What’s cool about Fort Benning? Fort Benning is the home of the Maneuver Center of Excellence and the Army’s largest training installation, but so what? Well, with an average daily population of active-duty and reserve soldiers, families, retirees and civilian employees that exceeds 120,000 and a footprint that spreads across 182,000 acres, the place is like its own city. Fort Benning contributes more than $100 million to the local economy and estimates reveal that approximately 11,000 new jobs will be created through the combining of the Armor and Infantry schools on post. Camp Benning was established in 1918 after the Infantry School moved to Columbus from Fort Sill, Okla. It was named after Brigadier Gen. Henry Lewis Benning, a Confederate Army general and Columbus native. Anna Caroline Benning, the daughter of Henry Benning, raised the first American flag over the post. Ninety-two years later it is still a training facility primarily for infantry soldiers. Fort Benning is now also a power projection platform capable of deploying combat-ready forces anywhere in the world on short notice by air, rail and highway.

2. Let’s talk about those jump towers Standing 250 feet over Eubanks Field on Fort Benning the U.S. Army Airborne School’s three jump towers are probably the most recognized landmarks on post. Between one and two of the three towers are used for Airborne School training. The 1st Battalion (Airborne), 507th Infantry Regiment has the responsibility of conducting the Airborne School. Its instructors are the world renowned “Black Hats” and are from the U.S. Army, Marine Corps, Navy and Air Force. Students are trained in the use of static line deployed parachutes and are trained by the same platoon sergeants, section sergeants and squad leaders for all three phases of training — ground, tower and jump. The history of the jump towers dates back to the Airborne Infantry test platoon of 1940. Shortly after the platoon was formed, Lt. Col. William C. Lee, a staff officer for the Chief of Infantry, recommended that the men be moved to the Safe Parachute Company at Hightstown, N.J., for a week of training on the 250-foot parachute drop towers used during the New York World’s Fair. The Army was so impressed with the tower drops that two were purchased and erected at Fort Benning on what is now Eubanks Field. Later, two more were added, but one blew over in a hurricane in the 50s so three of the original four are still standing and up to two are in use training paratroopers at Fort Benning.

3. There’s really no need to leave post Fort Benning is a self-sustaining community reminiscent of just about any city across the nation. It has a total of seven schools — six elementary and one middle — which serve the families living on post. Children attend schools on post from Pre-K through 8th grade. High school students residing on the installation (Grades 9-12) attend local county high schools. Fort Benning also has its own fire and police departments, a hotel, two dog parks, an automated dog wash, a car wash, two gyms, three swimming pools, a paint ball area, a shopping mall, two libraries, a grocery store, a skate park for kids, a recreation area at Uchee Creek, a hospital and a dental facility. There are also a host of youth activities to chose from. The “city” government is the garrison staff with Commanding General Maj. Gen. Michael Barbero at the top. Garrison Commander, Col. Thomas Macdonald, could be compared to a mayor while George Steuber, the deputy garrison commander/garrison manager, has a role similar to that of a city manager. Fort Benning does have a “housing authority,” though it is actively managed by an outside contractor.

4. Fort Benning: The Hollywood of the south? A number of movies have been filmed on Fort Benning, or the actors went through “boot camp” there. Some of the more famous films shot on post or that involved training at Fort Benning were: “We Were Soldiers” (2000), “Black Hawk Down” (2000) and “The General’s Daughter” (1999). The post has also been featured or mentioned in a number of television shows such as “M*A*S*H,” chef Gordon Ramsay’s British magazine and cooking television series “The F Word,” “The X-Files” and “Stargate SG-1.”

5. You don’t need to be a soldier to participate at Fort Benning HOTEX stands for hands-on training exercise. It is conducted about once a month by the 1st of the 29th Infantry Regiment. Why do you care? Because it’s a cool way to see some of the Army’s most powerful and lethal weapons in action such as the Bradley Fighting Vehicle and Stryker Infantry Carrier Vehicle. During these events, which are free and open to the public, soldiers from the unit’s 2nd Battalion also put on a display featuring small arms, rifles and squad automatic weapons. Following the firepower demonstrations, the community is invited to get up close and personal with the weaponry by entering the Bradleys and Stykers and shooting the small arms and rifles.

6. Where has all the history gone?

The National Infantry Museum used to be located on Baltzell Avenue on Fort Benning. It closed its doors in March 2008. Though small in comparison to its successor located off post, it boasted some 300 exhibits and galleries, all of which wove together the amazing 243-year legacy of the United States Infantry. At any given time there were about 5,000 artifacts on display in the three-story building. That’s only about 10 percent of the museum’s total collection, meaning roughly 47,000 artifacts had to be placed in storage because of lack of space. Space isn’t an issue anymore, what with the $100 million, 185,000-square-foot, two-story monument to the infantryman now sitting off Benning Boulevard. It’s called the National Infantry Museum and Soldier Center at Patriot Park and it opened in June of 2009. Since then, more than 300,000 visitors have walked through its doors and toured its galleries, eaten at the Fife and Drum Restaurant, perused the lobby gift shop or caught a movie in the 292-seat IMAX Theater. On the Armor front, plans are currently underway to build a $75 million Armor and Cavalry Museum on Fort Benning. Construction should begin in about a year and take five to seven years to complete.

7. A little bit about Riverside: The commandant’s quarters While we’re on the topic of Fort Benning history, let’s talk about Riverside. Riverside was built in 1909 by Columbus businessman Arthur Bussey. Originally constructed as a summer home for Bussey and his family, the two-story, white-columned house was part of Bussey’s 1,800-acre plantation. The home, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, now sits on an 18-acre estate and serves as the commandant’s quarters. Generals such as Omar Bradley, Courtney Hodges, Joseph Harper and Carmen Cavezza have called Riverside home at one point in their military careers. In fact, a total of 49 commandants have resided there. Maj. Gen. Michael Ferriter and his wife, Margie Ferriter, currently reside there. In 2009, Fort Benning celebrated Riverside’s 100th birthday.

8. It’s a place where red-cockaded woodpeckers and longleaf pines thrive Due to development on the boundaries of Fort Benning, for a number of endangered or threatened plant and animal species, the post is their last stand in this area. The installation is relocating species like gopher tortoises and relict trilliums to areas where they will be even more protected. There’s a pair of bald eagles that nests on post and raises a clutch of babies every year. In recent years Fort Benning has reached out to experts with the U.S. Department of the Interior Fish and Wildlife Service and the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service to help recover its longleaf pine forests and its red-cockaded woodpecker population. In 1990, Fort Benning had about 6,000 acres of longleaf pine. At that time, biologists identified 172 active red-cockaded woodpecker clusters on 100,000 acres of managed upland pine forests. Today, there are 34,000 acres of healthy longleaf pine and the number of red-cockaded woodpecker potential breeding groups has increased to 249. The goal is to increase the red-cockaded woodpecker population on post to 350 potential breeding groups.

9. There’s a lot to learn on Fort Benning Fort Benning has been home to many schools and courses. These include Ranger School, Officer Candidate School, Pathfinder School, Airborne School, One Station Unit Training, Infantry Basic Officer Leadership Course, Maneuver Captain’s Career Course, Sniper School, the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation and the U.S. Army Marksmanship Unit. The Army Tank School was located at Fort Benning from 1932-1938. It moved to Fort Knox, Ky., as the Armor School. That school will soon relocate to Fort Benning as part of the Base Realignment and Closure initiative.

10. How the heck do I get on post? Fort Benning is accessible through several vehicle control points. Drivers of vehicles without military stickers must stop at the visitor’s center on I-185 or Benning Boulevard and present a valid driver’s license and proof of registration or rental contract to get a temporary access pass. All vehicles will be stopped at the gates. Drivers and passengers should be prepared to present pictured identification. Children 15 and younger are exempt.

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