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Wednesday, Oct. 19, 2011

Army, civic leaders celebrate entry

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Army, civic and community leaders toasted the new Fort Benning Gateway with a symbolic ribbon-cutting and dedication ceremony Thursday at the National Infantry Museum.

The Interstate 185 entryway — built at the Victory Drive interchange — is a $6.8 million project designed specifically as a tribute to the Soldiers, troops and families entering and leaving post each day. Officials said it was five years in the making and required significant collaboration between the Georgia Department of Transportation, Columbus Consolidated Government, Fort Benning command, area utilities and a design team headed by local landscape architect Gary Gullatte.

“We are just beaming with pride. It’s amazing,” said Maj. Gen. Robert Brown, the Maneuver Center of Excellence and Fort Benning commanding general. “I have always loved the power of a vision. … It all started with our community. This is a magnificent entryway. It’s the greatest entryway to a military installation in the world.”

Sam Wellborn, the Georgia DOT’s District 3 board member, said the gateway is the “most exciting and meaningful” department project he’s ever been associated with.

“This is the day I have looked forward to for a long, long time,” he told the audience. “The idea was to honor our Soldiers and honor the families of our Soldiers, and I think we’ve done that.”

He said the Fort Benning Gateway was the brainchild of John Flournoy, chairman of the Columbus Gateways Foundation.

To develop the vision, Flournoy said he enlisted the help of Hollywood set designer Paul Sylbert to create a monument and message that would be fitting and unique for Fort Benning.

“We felt this needed to be something out of this world, something that doesn’t exist anywhere,” Flournoy said. “The detailing on the statues is unbelievable. It is really beautiful. … It’s even more spectacular at night with all the lighting and flags. It’s well worth the trip down there. This has really turned out special.”

Columbus Mayor Teresa Tomlinson offered her appreciation to all who made the Fort Benning Gateway possible, and she pledged city resources to help maintain it.

“We are committed to the continued beauty of this great gateway … that will be here for generations and the ages,” she said. “It’s a symbol of our city now. It’s the symbol of a great, great community that is so well-knitted with our military.” Brown said Fort Benning Soldiers stand in “continued admiration” of the support they always receive from Columbus, Phenix City and the Chattahoochee Valley.

“We have the greatest community and family on the face of the Earth,” he said. “This proves it again. We’re grateful and humbled by this tremendous gateway.”

Founded in 1991 by Flournoy, the Columbus Gateways Foundation has developed and designed 15 entryways in the tricommunity, providing more than $30 million in project backing through public partnerships and private donations.

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