Fort Benning training fewer soldiers, despite addition of Armor School

benw@ledger-enquirer.comJanuary 23, 2013 

Even with moving the Armor School to Fort Benning, the Maneuver Center of Excellence is training fewer soldiers, a post official said Wednesday.

The post has trained soldiers from the Armor School since the school moved to Fort Benning from Fort Knox, Ky. As part of the 2005 Base Realignment and Closure process, that move was completed in September 2011. For fiscal year 2012, the first full year with the Armor and Infantry schools training on post, officials said 93,200 soldiers were trained, although the projection was 96,000.

The totals for fiscal 2012 represent a drop in training by about 37,800 soldiers, or 29 percent, from the 131,000 soldiers in fiscal 2011. Current training levels have dipped to ranges recorded between 2001 and 2006, with 90,000 to 99,500 soldiers.

Elsie Jackson, a post public affairs spokeswoman, said the post is projected to train 96,800 soldiers for this fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30. "This year the projection has gone up a bit," she said. "A lot of it depends on the recruitment, too."

Moving the Armor School added about 2,200 soldiers to the Chattahoochee Valley, but a total of 20,000 residents counting civilian workers, contractors and family members. The biggest change in training compared to previous years is that the war in Iraq ended in December 2011 and the conflict in Afghanistan is winding down.

In addition to training at the two schools, the post conducts Airborne, Ranger and Officer Candidate School training on the sixth largest installation in the country.

Retired Lt. Gen. R.L. "Sam" Wetzel, commander of Fort Benning from 1981-83, said more drops in training are possible.

"You can expect more drops I would imagine with the current budget process," said Wetzel, a veteran of the Korean and the Vietnam wars. "They got a hiring freeze out there, and I think you will see when they get figured out in Washington about what the size of our armed forces going to be."

The retired general said officials may not know what they're going to get until a decision on the force is made. That decision then will go to the Army's Training and Doctrine Command at Fort Eustis, Va., which serves Fort Benning.

"I think we are just seeing the beginning," the general said.

Gary A. Jones, director of public affairs at Fort Benning, said selection of a secretary of defense may have a future impact on training numbers.

"Once the new secretary of defense gets confirmed and on board and makes decisions, I anticipate it will change more than likely downward," Jones said of training. "I don't know that. We really won't know until some decisions come down."

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