Secretary of Defense Robert Gates visited Fort Benning Saturday to meet with basic training Soldiers on Sand Hill. During his visit, he observed combatives demonstrations, urban operations, Eagle Tower and marksmanship practice.
His message for the Soldiers was one of thanks.
“I just want to tell you how much I appreciate everything you’re doing,” Gates said to more than 220 Soldiers in C Company, 2nd Battalion, 19th Infantry Regiment, who took a knee after demonstrating their understanding of Army combatives and Eagle Tower.
“You volunteered in a time of war,” he said. “And the American people are deeply grateful to you for being willing to do this — you are one percent of the American people. What I’d like to do here is get a picture with each one of you, just as a small token of appreciation.”
Gates individually thanked and gave a secretary of defense coin to each basic trainee.
“I think it’s an honor and an unexpected honor,” said PVT Brad Fryar, the first Soldier in line to shake hands with the secretary.
“We’ve been training out here in the heat … training hard every day. It’s really uplifting.”
The Infantrymen were in their eighth day of one station unit training.
“The men train hard,” company commander CPT Thomas Schlichter said, “and to have the secretary of defense come down and visit them and take an interest in their training really motivates them and makes them take a bigger interest in their training.”
Gates’s first stop was at Wilson Village on Sand Hill where he witnessed the proficiency and precision of the U.S. Army Combatives School.
SFC James Baxley, NCOIC of the Combatives Demonstration Squad, narrated as basic trainees in B Company, 2nd Battalion, 54th Infantry Regiment, practiced grappling techniques.
“Using combat as the guide from lessons learned, we have designed a system that gives every Soldier the ability and tools needed to accomplish the mission,” Baxley said. “This is done by starting in basic combat training and teaching young Soldiers how to control the fight on their feet (or) on the ground.”
Wrapping up week 11 of basic training, B Company also completed its culminating exercise for the urban operations block of instruction.
“It’s a pretty high-stress environment for any Soldier, but I think they performed admirably,” company commander CPT Derek Wamsley said. “It was a good way for us to see they received the proper amount of training. (And) it’s a realistic way for (Gates) to gauge whether or not the Soldiers on the lowest level are able to absorb what they’re being taught.”
The secretary’s final stop was Malone 2, where Soldiers in D Company, 1st Battalion, 50th Infantry Regiment, perfected their marksmanship skills.
From his view on the Location of Misses and Hits System, PV2 Jonathon Barnette coached PFC Andrew McFarland, who fired at targets 175 to 300 meters away. Practicing marksmanship under the observation of the secretary of defense could have been “nerve-wracking” for someone still learning, McFarland said, but his training and the guidance he has received from his drill sergeants got him through.
“Having the secretary of defense out there was pretty awesome. I’m only in basic training, but it’s still nice to know we’re appreciated by people who are higher up,” said McFarland, who met and shook hands with Gates. “I probably won’t get another chance like that in my life.”
Before Gates’s departure, MG Michael Ferriter, Fort Benning commanding general, thanked the secretary with a presentation of a Follow Me statue at Lawson Army Airfield.