On a day that marked the beginning of the 100th year of Fort Benning, Maj. Gen. Eric J. Wesley talked of growing the relationship of the Army post with Columbus.
The Army has given Fort Benning and the Maneuver Center of Excellence two directives — work to expand military robotics and develop the next-generation combat vehicle — that will offer great opportunity for Columbus, Wesley said Thursday in an address to city political, business and civic leaders.
“Those things are going to be built right here at Fort Benning, Ga.,” Wesley said. “But our maneuver force can’t do those things on our own. We have a long history as a nation collaborating with industry — and we need industry to get after those things.”
The role of private industry and vendors will be critical in the developmental stages, Wesley said.
“That is significant because you are talking about vendors that will be critical to that pathway, and it is not just uniform,” Wesley said. “It will be industry collaborating with budgeteers, collaborating with acquisition folks. So, ultimately all of our labs, industry and the base that build material systems will collaborate right here at Fort Benning.”
It’s too early in the process to talk about what the new combat vehicle might look like, but the process has started, Wesley said.
“It may be a tank, it may be a Bradley (Fighting Vehicle), we are still not clear on that,” Wesley said. “But the last time this was done from a center of excellence was when we built the M1 Abrams (main battle tank) at Fort Knox.”
As for the development of military robotics, it also offers great opportunity for civilian input and job expansion, Wesley said.
“I was talking to a hobbyist, and I happen to know right here in Columbus (that) robotics is a growing interest not only among hobbyists, but potentially also in the terms of the free market,” Wesley said. “Right now, there is no home of robotics. Where is the next Silicon Valley of robotics, as an example? Where might it be?”
With Columbus State University President Chris Markwood attending the event at the Columbus Public Library, the general issued a challenge of sorts.
“What might the role of Columbus State University be?” Wesley asked. “... It is a challenge to this group here because I think it’s relevant to the economy, it’s relevant to the our readiness, and it’s relevant to our mutual relationship.”
Greater Columbus Chamber of Commerce President Brian Anderson said Wesley’s words and challenge are important.
“The challenge is for our civilian leadership to think as boldly as the general is thinking,” Anderson said.
And there is an opportunity for the community to moved forward with Fort Benning in the development of robotics, Anderson said.
“Now, we are saying, why aren’t we thinking of being an autonomous robotics center of excellence, matched with our educational opportunities, matched with our industry? — and Fort Benning is an industry,” Anderson said.
Before the general addressed the local leadership, he participated in a ceremony with city and military officials that kicked off the year-long 100th anniversary celebration of Fort Benning, which opened as Camp Benning in October 2018.
The kickoff was held near the Citizens Service Building on the midtown education and governmental campus.
“Today kicks off the one-year celebration we will be having,” Tomlinson said. “We will be having all sorts of things, from football games to events like this to speeches and even a gala.”
A century ago, as the nation was preparing for World War I, Columbus city and business leaders lobbied in Washington, D.C., to bring a military installation to the Chattahoochee Valley.
Part of the plan is to honor that legacy with a monument or memorial that is still under design, Tomlinson said Thursday.
“I would like to see something that is dignified, respectful and reflects the history we have had together and the future we know we are going to have together,” Tomlinson said.