From his humble beginnings at Fort Benning more than 30 years ago, Col. Walter E. Piatt stood tall in the Benning Conference Center Friday as the new commander of the Infantry School.
“It’s humbling and intimidating,” Piatt said after the 4 p.m. ceremony at the Benning Conference Center.
He becomes the 52nd commander of the Infantry School, following in the footsteps of Gen. Omar Bradley, the 10th commander, and other former leaders such as Maj. Gen. Kenneth Leuer and Lt. Gen. Carmen Cavezza. He takes over the position left vacant by Brig. Gen. Bryan R. Owens, who departed in June.
“To be No. 52 and follow such a long line of incredible American heroes is humbling,” Piatt said. “No one person can do that. The only reason I can accept this position is because of this great community here, Columbus and Fort Benning.”
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Unlike many officers who attend a military academy then rise through the officer ranks, Piatt first served as an enlisted soldier before getting out and going to college. A native of Somerset, Pa., he enlisted in the Army in 1979 and attended basic, infantry and airborne training at Fort Benning before he was assigned to the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, N.C. He had other assignments at Fort Wainwright, Alaska, and Fort Campbell, Ky., before he left the military and followed the advice of his late father, Walter Piatt.
“I wanted to go to college and pursue an education,” Piatt said. “I wanted to re-enlist in the Army. My father advised me to get out and come back in as an officer. That was good advice from my father.”
Four years later in 1987, Piatt re-entered active service as a second lieutenant after graduating from Lock Haven University with a bachelor’s degree in biology. He attended Ranger School in 1985 at Fort Benning and later completed the Infantry Officer Basic Course and Infantry Officer Advanced Course on post.
Soon after the Sept. 11 terrorists attacks, Piatt was deployed to Afghanistan. While deployed, he wrote his wife, Cynthia, many letters.
“I wrote a series of letters to my wife, and it was my father who said you should try to publish these,” Piatt said. “I was trying to capture the human side of war.”
He felt the soldier’s side of war needed to be told, focusing on the hardships of being away from family and raising a family with one of the parents gone.
One book is titled “She Came to the Door to Wave Good-bye” and the second is called “Paktika: The Story of the 2nd Battalion 27th Infantry ‘Wolfhounds’ in Paktika, Afghanistan.” Both are available on Amazon.com.
“I didn’t win any awards,” Piatt said of the books. “I’m glad I didn’t give up my commission because I wouldn’t have made a living as an author. For me, it was a personal accomplishment.”
As commander of the Infantry School, where about 12,500 soldiers are trained every month, Piatt said there are challenges but good ones with the Army bringing the U.S. Armor School back home from Fort Knox, Ky.
“I think we started here,” he said. “We learned how to maneuver armor. We learned how to do it all. Whatever is our nation’s security issue, they ask our Army to solve it.”
Maj. Gen. Robert Brown, commander of the Maneuver Center of Excellence, noted how Piatt has come a long way since he was in basic training at Fort Benning 32 years ago. In those days, his name was messed up on his uniform so he went to his drill sergeant to get it fixed.
“The drill sergeant said, ‘Shut up, Platt,’” Brown said of the wrong name.