Fort Benning

Hundreds turn out for opening of new Martin Army Hospital

Military leaders, city officials and relatives of the late Maj. Gen. Joseph I. Martin filled the atrium at the new Martin Army Community Hospital Friday to officially open the 84-bed hospital at Fort Benning.

The 1 p.m. ceremony was a historic day for the Martin family to see a second hospital bearing the name of Martin, who served in World War I, World War II and the Korean War. When it starts serving patients on Nov. 17, the $500 million facility will replace the old hospital that opened more than 56 years ago at a cost of more than $8 million.

“So proud,” Dr. Karen Barnes, Martin’s granddaughter, said of the hospital on Bass Road.

Barnes said she remembers her grandfather as a kind, large man in stature and one who was very intelligent. “I think the facility honors him well,” said Barnes of Edmond, Okla. Her family still has a strong medical influence with three doctors.

Martin was known for his work in field medicine, medical military education and training. During peacetime and at war, his efforts in field medicine were reflected in the modern system of training and management of medical personnel.

Before the ribbon cutting, Barnes said she learned much about her grandfather by reading his diaries. As a veteran of three wars, Martin noted that he was honored by countries long before he was honored by the United States with medals.

Martin strongly believed in blood banks to keep soldiers alive. “He said it was going to be his mission to give blood to the troops to survive,” Barnes said.

Maj. Gen. Scott Miller, commander of the Maneuver Center of Excellence, said Martin served in three wars, retired and passed away before the old hospital down the street was dedicated.

“I think it absolutely served its purpose well,” the commander said. “I think we have an opportunity now to watch another great hospital serve its purpose well.”

Sooner or later, everybody will need to go to the hospital, the post commander said. “We all know whether we like it or not, eventually we will be going to the hospital,” Miller said. “We are going to see the doctor.”

In recognizing the efforts of Martin, Miller said the Medical Corps leaders would have provided care to soldiers if tents were placed on York Field.

Col. Scott Avery, commander of Martin Army Community Hospital and Army Medical Department Activity at Fort Benning, recognized the efforts of U.S. Rep. Sanford Bishop Jr. and the former hospital commander, retired Col. Harry L. Warren, for efforts to get the facility built. The facility, which has an eight-story hospital, two clinics and two garages, was constructed at a cost of about $500 million.

It includes $388.5 million for the buildings and another $112 million for equipment and furniture. With a new intensive care unit, surgical suites and other specialized equipment, the facility gives the hospital the ability to perform services that weren’t previously possible.

“This hospital continues to honor the work of the late Gen. Joseph I. Martin,” Avery said. “This facility will continue his contribution to medicine.”

Warren, commander of the hospital from 2007-2009, said the building was held together with duct tape and bailing wire when he arrived at Fort Benning. The hospital had 13 water outages in a six-month period and the temperature inside soared to 93 degrees when the air conditioning failed. In addition to that, the plumbing pipes were rotting and electrical power was marginal in keeping up with the demand.

“So we are figuratively speaking, keeping it together with duct tape and bailing wire,” he said. “It was not going to last another 15 years is what they were telling us.” A new building was in the design stages when Warren was assigned to Fort Benning but funds were taken away. Warren said he was told instead to build a clinic as an alternate.

“My own staff and the other colonels on post said we fought the fight but it’s been lost,” Warren said. “We just got to go with what we got. I said no."

Warren said he briefed the Secretary of the Army, the vice chief of staff and they all agreed that a new hospital was needed but no money was available.

“Then by chance, one of my friends was doing a fellowship working with congressman Bishop and I had mentioned it to him how frustrating it was,” Warren said. “He said the congressman needs to know this. He wasn’t aware that Congress had moved the money away.”

After learning about the funding woes, Bishop took on the hospital as a challenge. “He said this is now my No. 1 legislative priority,” Warren said of Bishop. “Six months later, we had the money. ”

Bishop was at the ribbon cutting Friday but wasn’t available for comment afterward. The old facility will be decommissioned as a hospital. No decision has been made on the future use of the building.