Opinion Columns & Blogs

Retired Fort Benning personnel have become local leaders, economic contributors

Rufus Riggs
Rufus Riggs

Columbus has been, and will continue to be, the beneficiary of military personnel engaging in the economic growth and diversity of the citizens of the area. We have witnessed over the last two decades and beyond the number of retired service members who have blended into the political landscape, key leadership positions in the corporate sector and local government. We cannot put a price on the positive impact these members have on the work force. There is a plethora of experience in leadership, organizational skills and project management. Former Service members have held or currently hold key positions in Columbus, including mayor, city manager, department directors, division managers and other key positions in service to the city.

The Columbus community has had the good fortune and benefit of blending the community with people of divergent backgrounds, experience and languages. These military personnel bring their varied experiences and backgrounds into Columbus’ communities which we see in the diversity in our neighborhoods. The children grow up learning first hand that everyone doesn’t look the same, believe the same or experience the same things. Those of us who become adults before we are introduced to diversity, are deprived of experiencing or understanding the balance it takes to be a neighbor to our fellow man.

Fort Benning has a direct economic impact on Columbus. Retail sales in the area depend on soldiers and retirees to help their balance sheets. I don’t have statistics on what percentage of retail sales are directly related to soldiers and their families, but I do know that restaurants are busy with soldiers daily and especially on weekends. Soldiers purchase a large percentage of houses in the area, which affects property taxes and real estate sales. The Columbus community also has a large military retiree population that would perhaps not have retired here without the support they receive from Fort Benning. The support retiree get from Fort Benning’s Martin Army Community Hospital is essential to their health and economic well-being.

Traditions of the infantry

The infantry has a long and storied history. That tradition is lived daily with the training of infantry soldiers. The story of the infantry is on full display in the National Infantry Museum and Soldier Center. It is one of the must see sites for visitors. All of my friends and family not familiar with Fort Benning are taken there for a real close view of what it takes to become an infantry soldier, and the combat experience of infantry soldiers. When soldiers graduate from infantry training, one of the first places they take their families is the Infantry Museum and Soldier Center. All infantry soldiers are trained at the Infantry Training Center, which gives the newly trained soldier kinship with his/her branch of service.

The traditions and history of Fort Benning are ingrained in the fabric of the post. Many of the buildings, ranges and streets are named after many well-known army officers and enlisted men. These symbols are a reminder to all infantrymen and infantrywomen that the job of “closing with and destroying the enemy” is one which often requires one to sacrifice the most precious thing of all, which is life, for the freedoms we enjoy daily.

Rufus Riggs is a retired command sergeant major and retired director of the Columbus Public Works Department.