Fort Benning wants more land--up to 82,800 acres to be exact.
That was what Maj. Gen. Michael Ferriter, commanding general of Fort Benning and the Maneuver Center of Excellence, announced today at the National Infantry Museum and Soldier Center.
It's been about a decade since the Army identified a training land shortfall at a variety of installations across the country. Fort Benning was on the list of posts in need to more land on which it can train its two heavy maneuver battalions and other elements of the MCOE.
As a result, the post was approved in January by U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates and the Department of the Army to study the possibility of purchasing more training land.
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The real estate and environmental study should begin this summer with an Environmental Impact Statement to follow in October 2011, said Garrison Commander Col. Tom Macdonald. Once the study is complete, Army leadership will sign and publish a Record of Decision that states what its decision is in regards to purchasing more land.
"This is something that we've been looking at for a very long time," Macdonald said. "This has been years in analyzing and so we're just getting to the point now where we're ready to start moving forward to officially study this."
A shift in war fighting capabilities in Iraq and Afghanistan -- due in part to advancements and developments in technology -- have made it possible for soldiers to operate over more dispersed areas in theater. In order to align its combat brigades' training with its experiences while deployed, Fort Benning must expand to provide a greater variety and scope of terrain for units such as the 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division to conduct its training in accordance with its doctrine, Macdonald said.
"So that's why we're pursuing this study to see if we can acquire additional acreage up to 82,000 acres to allow them to train as they fight," Macdonald said. "And that's the key. We want to train as we fight. We want our soldiers to be as prepared as possible as they deploy to combat."
Recognizing the sensitivity of this issue, the post will be looking to land owners primarily in Marion, Chattahoochee, Webster, Stewart and Russell counties to sell their land.
"We're aware it's a sensitive issue and so we're going to be as open as we possibly can," Ferriter said. "And so we're here today to describe to you the steps, how the process works, how we start the study and then how we go forward from there."
Fort Benning is specifically looking for one continuous tract of land adjacent to the installation. The land has to meet the post's environmental and training requirements.
"So one of the things that we're looking at is how do we train our mechanized forces?" MacDonald said. "I mentioned the 3rd Brigade, that's a heavy force, they use Bradley Fighting Vehicles, they use tanks. So it doesn't do us a whole lot of good if the terrain is too severe in terms of wetlands or steep slopes to be able to do this kind of maneuver training that we want them to get after."
MacDonald said the study will also focus on what will happen to the land over time if it is exposed to such training and whether the terrain can be sustained.
For more on this story, please read tomorrow's Ledger-Enquirer.