Fort Benning honored its new chief of Infantry on Friday.
Col. Walter Piatt formally became the 52nd Infantry School commandant at an assumption of command ceremony in the Benning Conference Center. He replaces Brig. Gen. Bryan Owens, who left for Iraq in early June.
Maj. Gen. Robert Brown, the Maneuver Center of Excellence and Fort Benning commanding general, was the reviewing officer. He called Piatt “the perfect individual to follow in the footsteps of Army legends” such as Omar Bradley, Carmen Cavezza, Walter Wojdakowski and Ken Leuer — all retired generals who served in the role.
“They’re among the past commandants who led us to the success we enjoy today (and) we continue the tradition,” Brown said. “Colonel Piatt will take us to the next level. The maneuver force is being shaped here; with him, we’re in great shape.”
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Piatt’s last assignment was with the Institute for the Study of Diplomacy at Georgetown University’s Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service in Washington. He actually took over the Infantry School and duties as the chief of Infantry on June 30.
“It’s humbling and a little intimidating to follow such a long line of true American heroes. Many of my mentors are here today,” he said. “Coming back to Benning feels like coming home. The spirit of Benning is alive, and it’s stronger than ever.”
Piatt enlisted in the Army in 1979 and came to Fort Benning “by bus with everything I owned in a bag,” he recalled.
“He’s come a long ways since the days of Private Platt,” Brown joked, referring to a nametag mix-up when he showed up for basic training. The general said Piatt tried telling his drill sergeants about the mistake, to no avail, so it was “Private Platt” those first couple of years.
He went on to attend Infantry and Airborne training here before being assigned to the 82nd Airborne Division, Fort Bragg, N.C. Following a four-year service break to attend college, where Piatt was commissioned through ROTC after graduating from Lock Haven (Pa.) University with a Bachelor of Science degree in biology, he re-entered active duty as a second lieutenant in 1987.
In 1992, he returned to Fort Benning for the Infantry Captains Career Course and married his wife, Cynthia. Nineteen years later, they’re back with two children — Jessica, 16, and Joshua, 14.
Altogether, Piatt has served 26 years, including a stint alongside Brown in the 25th Infantry Division. From 2008 to 2009, Brown was the division’s deputy commanding general in Mosul, Iraq, while Piatt led its 3rd Brigade Combat Team.
“To watch him in action is really an amazing thing,” Brown told the audience. “He’s not only a great warrior, but also has great compassion and understands the big picture.”
Piatt has deployed four times overall since 9/11, twice each to Afghanistan and Iraq. He also holds two master’s degrees and has written two books, She Came to the Door to Wave Good-bye and Paktika, which chronicle his experiences in Afghanistan. Both are available on Amazon.com.
Maintaining today’s readiness level while building relevancy for the future is among the “great challenges” facing the Infantry School, he said.
“Demand on the Infantry remains high,” he said. “Our job is to prepare the Infantrymen of today for the last 100 yards that remain tomorrow. Whenever our nation has a security issue, they ask our Army to solve it. We have to be ready.”
Piatt said he’ll focus on boosting the Squad as a Strategic Formation concept. The top Army priority and modernization effort is aimed at raising situational awareness and giving squad leaders the tools to make sure dismounted Infantry Soldiers achieve the same overmatching capability mounted forces have on the battlefield.