Minutes after an impressive live-fire demonstration on Red Cloud Range Thursday, some Columbus-area residents still want changes at Fort Benning so they can have a better quality of life.
“Primarily, it has affected the quality of our rural living,” retired Army Lt. Col. Terry Gumbert said after an hour-long public meeting at McGinnis-Wickam Hall on post.
Gumbert, a Midland resident, was one of about 60 people who went to a 3 p.m. open house with a live-fire weapons demonstration followed by a meeting on training noise and what Fort Benning is doing to lessen the impact. Officials said the open house attracted about 1,200 people.
As a representative of hundreds of residents in the panhandle area of Midland and Upatoi, Gumbert asked Garrison Commander Col. Jeffrey Fletcher if anything could be done about the loud, late-night noise that interrupts sleep and places stress on pets.
“Is there any possible way you can help us live the life we had hoped we could live in this area,” said Gumbert, who lives on 10 acres. “Right now, it is disturbed, it’s affected and many of us are not happy about it. Please, never ever question our patriotism.”
When the training noise picks up, Gumbert said he has to literally knock out his two rescued dogs with tranquilizers.
“I’m very upset about that, being an animal person,” he said.
Fletcher said the draw down in the force over the next few years may impact how late soldiers train and the budget may make tough decisions in terms of civilian personnel. He said the post doesn’t have a lot of latitude to stop training at midnight.
“I don’t want to paint a picture and you think we are going to shut the range down at midnight,” he said. “No, I’m not saying that. I think we will do our best to get off the range as quickly as possible. We certainly recognize the impact it has not only on soldiers and families on post, but residents and our pets. We have two dogs.”
Thomas Kauflin of Box Springs said he still doesn’t know why soldiers have to train in the middle of a residential area.
“I still don’t know why they don’t do it in the desert somewhere,” he said. “I don’t understand.”
Kauflin said if he were starting a business in an area, he would have to pass tests and fill out paperwork. The training at Fort Benning causes dishes and cabinets in his home to shake.
“That is how intense I hear it,” he said.
Ronald Myers, a Vietnam veteran who retired as a sergeant first class, supports the soldiers and said the people complaining haven’t served in the military.
“They better be glad the war ain’t over here,” said Myers, a Benning Hills resident who lost some of his hearing in the Army. “I can put up with the noise.”
Myers said soldiers have to train here or people will complain more when they are killed in combat without it.
“People complain about noise, OK,” Myers said. “If they send the soldiers over to a war and they ain’t trained and get killed, they are going to say America is not training their troops.”
Marvina Lodge of Cusseta agrees the training helps the soldiers.
“The noise is not a problem,” she said. “It’s all for the safety of the soldiers.”
It is not just the noise that concerns some residents.
Shannon Griffin, a 37-year-old former Marine, is already concerned about cracks he has spotted in his Upatoi Ridge home that was built in 2007. A rafter is starting to pull away from the wall and cabinets are damaged.
“We love the military,” Griffin said. “I would get back in uniform today if I could.”
Anyone with a claim about possible damages from training should contact the staff judge advocate office at 706-545-8834, said Capt. Earl Wilson. It usually takes six months or longer to conduct a claims investigation.
“He has to find a cause connection between the structural damage at your home and the activities going on at Fort Benning,” Wilson said.
Gumbert said the open house was good but it’s unfortunate the Army is powerless in what it can do.
“It is very nice of them to do it,” he said. “I also know they are just following orders. I spent 20 years in the Army. I know exactly where they are at. The problem exists way above this.”