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Benning to grow with BRAC proposal

By Bridgett Siter/The Bayonet

FORT BENNING, Ga. (TRADOC News Service, May 20, 2005) – “Welcome to Fort Benning, home of the infantry and armor.”

Or: “Welcome to Fort Benning, home of the Maneuver Training Center.”

Or maybe. …

It’s too early to say what it will be called, but if approved, the Defense Department’s base realignment and closure recommendation to bring the Army’s armor school and center from Fort Knox, Ky., to Fort Benning would mean one thing for certain, said the post’s commanding general.

“The music of freedom has added pieces to its orchestra,” said Brig. Gen. Benjamin Freakley, referring to the 300 64-ton M1A1 and M1A2 tanks that would come with the U.S. Army Armor School.

Freakley’s approach during a May 13 press conference was indicative of the collective response on and off post to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s announcement earlier that day.

Though no one expected Fort Benning to be closed, certainly a loss of personnel was a major concern. As it turns out, Fort Benning is “confirmed as a significant focus for realignment recommendations,” Freakley said, and local officials are excited about the probability of growth.

As the U.S. Army Maneuver Center, the post stands to gain nearly 10,000 personnel and $460 million in construction over the next four years if the president and Congress approve the proposal. That translates to more money off post, as roughly 2,200 Armor School cadre, civilian employees and their families frequent local businesses.

“It’s excellent for Fort Benning, the city of Columbus and the region,” said Columbus Mayor Bob Poydasheff. “I certainly didn’t expect Fort Benning to close, but I did fear a loss of some sort. I was absolutely elated.”

This round of BRAC, the first in 10 years and larger than the previous four, calls for the closure of 33 major installations and the downsizing of hundreds more, with a projected savings of $48 billion taxpayer dollars over the next 20 years.

The BRAC 2005 list has been three years in the making, since Congress approved the 2002 National Defense Authorization Act. It’s designed to facilitate a Joint force postured for the global challenges of the 21st century.

It will, in effect, convert “waste to warfighting resources,” Freakley said, creating a leaner, meaner military by reducing infrastructure and melding like operations to reduce costs and increase readiness.

Freakley likened the thought process behind BRAC to that of a landowner struggling to maintain five aging homes. It would best serve him to sell four and improve the one he lives in. BRAC will “make our great installations premier installations,” he said.

Though obviously pleased with the BRAC proposal, Freakley urged his audience to use caution when crunching numbers. If the president approves the all-or-nothing recommendation, he’ll send it up to Congress by late September. The outcome won’t be known until November at the earliest.

“This is a proposal from the secretary of defense to the nation on how we can best care for our nation’s resources,” he said. “The decision process is ongoing. We have to be careful with numbers.”

Fort Benning fared well in the proposal, Freakley said, for several reasons. The post’s “ownership” of its airspace, a byproduct of housing the Airborne School, carried a lot of weight, no doubt, “since the Army is becoming more and more reliant on air.”

Also, with 184,000 acres of mostly undeveloped land, an increase in training will not encroach upon areas that present zoning problems. Armor training will likely be located in the northern portion of the installation.

Freakley said the relationship between Fort Benning and the local community and the post’s historically “high marks for environmental care” were also taken into consideration.

Approval of the BRAC commission’s recommendations for Fort Benning would mean:

  • The formation of a U.S. Army Reserve Center on post, which will consolidate 15 Reserve centers.
  • Fort Benning would host the 81st Regional Support Command’s Equipment Concentration Site, currently housed at Fort Gillem, one of seven Georgia installations slated for closure.
  • Officials may re-evaluate RCI – the Residential Community Initiative – which is expected to spend as much as $615 million on 4,200 new housing units on post. Freakley said he doesn’t anticipate a significant increase, but an increase of some sort may be considered.
  • The post would likely have three general officers on staff, one with the Maneuver Center and one each for the infantry and armor centers/schools.
  • An increase of about 10,000 – from 80,000 to 90,000 – in the number of Soldiers trained here each year.
  • The anticipated arrival of the 25th Infantry Division’s new 5th Brigade has been cancelled. The brigade will go elsewhere, Freakley said.
  • The relocation of Fort Benning’s Drill Sergeant School, to Fort Jackson, S.C., where all three Army drill sergeant schools will be consolidated.

Added to the mix will be the already anticipated arrival of 183 Soldiers with the 362nd Engineer Company, more than 400 military policemen who will fill a new battalion headquarters and two MP companies, and about 100 more Rangers with the 75th Ranger Regiment.

All in all, Freakley said, “Fort Benning will gain new importance as the center for maneuver training” and will “become a focal point for the most critical aspect of the Army: the combat Soldier.”

With that prominence comes a significant increase in demands and benefits to the local community, he said.

“It’s a big mission, and schools, housing and service providers will feel an impact,” he said, but the growth “will be managed carefully.”

Fort Benning is committed to being a good neighbor, Freakley said, and that means “doing what’s right for our Soldiers, our nation and our community.”

Poydasheff anticipates nothing less. He said the thriving partnership between Fort Benning and Columbus will only improve.

“We began game planning early on, a couple of years ago, to develop a closer relationship with Fort Benning,” he said. “We all worked to enhance Fort Benning’s role in this community and to show our support for the post. That won’t change. It will only increase and improve.”

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