Maj. Gen. Michael Barbero said he was shocked to learn he will be leaving Fort Benning just seven months after becoming the post’s 50th commandant but believes the Army has chosen the right leader to replace him.
In a change of command ceremony June 24 on Soldiers Field, near the National Infantry Museum and Soldier Center at Patriot Park, Barbero will relinquish control of the U.S. Army Infantry Center and Fort Benning to Maj. Gen. Michael Ferriter. The outgoing infantry chief said Tuesday he doesn’t know his next assignment nor has the Army made its official announcement on the subject. Whatever his future holds, Barbero said he always will carry with him fond memories of his short tenure at Fort Benning.
“This has been the most enjoyable assignment I’ve ever had, and it’s because of Fort Benning, everything that it stands for,” Barbero said. “The team we have here, which is tremendous, the mission we have here to totally support an Army at war and provide trained and ready soldiers.”
This transition from one commanding general to another comes when the post is experiencing historic changes as the Armor and Infantry schools prepare to merge and become the Maneuver Center of Excellence. Barbero said he wishes he could see the undertaking come to fruition but is confident in Ferriter's ability to oversee the final stages of the project.
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“I am disappointed because I think it’s going to be tremendous for Fort Benning, tremendous for the community and really the right way for the Army,” Barbero said. “We can build some efficiencies here as we train the Armor and Infantry forces together. We fight together. We were side-by-side in Baghdad and Afghanistan, so why not train together here while still preserving the two branches? So I’m disappointed big time that I won’t be here to see it through, but I’ll come back some time to see it.”
The son of a distinguished World War II veteran, Barbero said his father’s example of decades of service set the tone early for his military career. After earning a commission in the Infantry upon graduation from the United States Military Academy at West Point in 1976, Barbero served in tactical assignments in mechanized, light and air assault infantry units.
“I grew up around the Army,” he said. “My brother was two years ahead of me at West Point. So it seemed something I was comfortable with, and, really, my father set an example of selfless service that I wanted to emulate, so I wanted to go be a soldier like my dad.”
Barbero came to Fort Benning in November 2008, replacing now-retired Maj. Gen. Walt Wojdakowski as the post’s top commander. He has served two tours in Iraq. Most recently, he spent 16 months in Baghdad as the director of combined joint operations for Multi National Forces — Iraq.
The Army has changed much since Barbero was a young lieutenant and so has the training. Today, the armed forces are locked into what doctrine calls persistent conflict. In Barbero’s words, “We’re going to be at this for a while.”
Teaching counter-insurgency tactics is vital to the mission of the Army, he said. In recent months, that mission has evolved. Now, those counter-insurgency tactics must be passed to Iraqi and Afghan National Forces in theater so they can finish the fight.
“The day of producing a soldier who’s waiting to be yelled at by a sergeant is over,” Barbero said. “We need to produce soldiers who are thinking and are asking questions and are ready to be members of a team, because many of our young privates, as soon as they leave here, they go to a unit that’s in the last few weeks or months before they deploy to Iraq or Afghanistan. So that’s our output we have to aim for. That’s our product. So we’ve changed the way we do things.
“In Iraq, when I was there, we were doing a lot of the fighting. Well, if this is a year of transition, we need to have leaders that can understand how to enable their Iraqi brothers to do the fighting and how we can enable them with additional assets. So creating leaders here who can think through that and apply our doctrine and what they’ve learned here to enable the Iraqis or the Afghan forces, that’s really our task as the fight changes in both places.”
The adaptability, flexibility, devotion and sacrifice exhibited by U.S. soldiers during the past five years is rivaled only by those who fought in World War II, Barbero said.
The general called this “the newest, greatest generation.”
“This generation has been described as the newest, greatest generation and I honestly believe that,” he said. “I mean repeated deployments. If you came into the Army in the last five years, you knew you were going to war, and yet they keep coming. I look back on it, this is an Army that’s never been busier, never been deployed more than it is now, under considerable amount of stress, yet they’re hanging in there, and it’s because they believe in what they’re doing.”
Before making his exit from Fort Benning later this month, Barbero will attend the June 19 grand opening of the National Infantry Museum.
It’s an opportunity he is pleased he won’t miss because he has invested time and manpower into the project and believes in what it aims to accomplish: Honor the American soldier. “It is a world-class facility,” the general said. “There’s nothing like it in the world. It’s the best military museum, if not one of the best museums, in the world, and what makes it so special is that it’s dedicated to the American soldier.