Chuck Williams

Chuck Williams: Fort Benning is where the tradition starts for soldiers

What does Fort Benning mean to you?

That question, in a round about way, came up a couple of weeks ago when Maj. Gen. Scott Miller was taking command of Fort Benning and the Maneuver Center of Excellence.

One of the men there to watch the U.S. Army hand Miller the keys to one of its most traditional installations was Command Sgt. Maj. J.R. Stigall.

Like Miller, Stigall has served the bulk of his career in the Special Operations community, a group of military personnel who carry out mostly covert operations in hostile or politically sensitive areas. Stigall and Miller most recently served together in Afghanistan.

All you need to know about the Special Operations guys is this — you don’t ask; they don’t tell.

It had been a while since Stigall had been on post at Fort Benning. But after talking to him, it is clear what Fort Benning means to him — and many warriors like him.

“I went past Olson Hall and I saw the jump towers. I had this unbelievable feeling of nostalgia and thought, ‘Wow, I think I have come home,’” Stigall said.

He then pointed out it had been 32 years since he took that leap of faith on those iconic jump towers.

But he still calls Fort Benning home. That is from a soldier — raised in Kentucky — who has traveled the world working as an agent of our government.

What is it that creates this pull back to Fort Benning?

For someone like Stigall, many of the critical skills he’s relied on during his three-decade-plus military career were developed at Fort Benning. He went through Infantry basic and advanced training, Airborne School, Ranger School and Pathfinder School at Fort Benning.

When he talks about Fort Benning, Stigall talks about the Army’s stability and consistency.

He asks: “But where is the consistency? Where is the stability? What is it that keeps the Army traditions alive and makes the connections that me, with 32 years of service, has with that private who is going to walk across here in a few minutes and graduate from basic training? What is that connection? What is that connection I have with those retirees that served in Vietnam or Korea?”

Stigall then answers his own questions.

“A lot of that connection is through our traditions,” he said. “And I will tell you, Fort Benning as the Maneuver Center of Excellence keeps those traditions alive.”

For most career soldiers, those traditions start at Fort Benning, Stigall said. As Maj. Gen. H. R. McMaster was leaving his job as commander of Fort Benning earlier this month, he called the post “the heartbeat of the Army.”

“You can feel that at Fort Benning,” Stigall said. “This is the place soldiers come to get their start. And that start is so important.”

And that start is more important the closer you get to the end of the fight. Ask Command Sgt. Maj. Stigall.