Benning commander addresses Armor School’s transition

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By The Staff


Turret Staff Writer


The Armor School’s transition to Fort Benning, Ga., has been talked about for several years now. That talk has become a reality now that construction is underway in Georgia.

Fort Benning Commander Maj. Gen. Walter Wojdakowski gave a Waybur Theatre crowd reassurances and updates on the transition to the Maneuver Center of Excellence Monday, the first day of the Armor Warfighting Conference.

While the pace of the Armor School’s transition to Fort Benning will pick up later this year, the quality of its instruction and the competency of its graduates will not lose a step.

“The mission is the most important,” Wojdakowski said. “Our core competency has to be maintained while we make this move of the Armor Center to Fort Benning.”

 The much-anticipated operational orders for the move are being drafted now.

“We’re now in the business of writing these orders, and executing these orders as necessary to make this campaign happen,” he said.

The operational order commencing the movement of assets—people and equipment—positioned at Knox will be published Oct. 1. The operational order detailing Fort Benning’s planned acceptance of these assets will be published in the middle of June.

He said that the actual move will take 18 months to two years, a time frame that will meet BRAC deadlines yet allow the Army to maintain armor, cavalry, and infantry’s standards.

“This is by design,” he explained. “The last thing we want to do is split the Armor School down the center over a five-year period. We’ve designed it so we move pieces over in as short a period as possible. This will keep continuity of command. The last thing we want to do is close the Armor School and run the Armor School in two places.”

Specifically, facilities for the move of Knox’s 16th Cavalry Regiment are scheduled for completion by the end of 2008, and the 194th Armored Brigade’s new home should be ready by the end of 2009.

Wojdakowski did list some specific challenges that the transition team has confronted, mainly the construction of ranges. Private contractors have been hired to complete the task, but he indicated that building ranges for tanks is a relatively new concept for the private sector in the Benning area.

Wojdakowski said that an Army Corps of Engineers team was specifically directed to oversee the construction of the ranges and to assure that the Armor Branch’s standards are met. And, he takes full responsibility for the timely and correct work.

“Once again, the buck stops here with the Fort Benning commander to make sure things get done to standard and on time,” he said.

While Wojdakowski said there is an “immense amount of work” that must be done to complete the move, the result will be worth it.

“We know that the designs are just right,” he said. “We talk about eggs to order…It’s going to be unbelievable. Instead of taking over old buildings, these facilities are being built just for what you need.”

At the end of his briefing, Wojdakowski fielded two questions from the audience.

Fort Knox Commander Maj. Gen Don Campbell asked, “What’s the biggest challenge when you create an entity like the Maneuver Center of Excellence with two separate schools and different commandants?”

Wojdakowski replied that the first challenge was the recognition that you’re really going to do it. It’s a culturally significant event. It’s a significant event for the area, and rightfully so. The Armor School has been here forever, and one of these days it’s not going to be here. The fact is we follow orders, and our orders are to move the school and get the synergy and advantages there are from doing it. I think we’re all convinced that this is a good thing.

Wojdakowski went on to explain how Benning has overcome two specific problems dealing with water. Tanks need to be cleaned when they come in from the field, a chore usually performed at wash racks. Instead of building new racks, the Benning transition team figured the tanks could drive from their ranges the 10-mile trip to an existing wash facility. But, being immersed in infantry culture, the team wasn’t aware of the nearly $1,000-per-mile cost in gas mileage for an Abrams tank.

“That’s $20,000 for a round-trip to wash a tank,” he said.

The transition team asked the Army for the money it will take to build a rack just outside the tank bays, he said, adding that it will pay for itself in 18 months.

The other challenge facing Benning is the extra burden on the water supply from the influx of Soldiers and families. The mayor of Columbus, Ga., told Wojdakowski that the existing water treatment facility in the city couldn’t support the increase, so Benning will renovate and reopen the post’s now-defunct facility.

The second question for Wojdakowski was asked by a sergeant major from the 194th Armored Brigade, who wanted to know how the Armor School’s cadre would be transitioned.

Wojdakowski said the specifics will be detailed in the operations order that will be published Oct. 1. He also said that classes will be modified or cancelled to facilitate the smooth transition.