Bus tour highlights best of Fort Benning
May 10, 2012
FORT BENNING, Ga. (May 9, 2012) -- New to post? Take the Newcomers Tour and you'll learn enough about Fort Benning's geography, history and amenities to make the installation as familiar as home.
"This tour is, essentially, the 21st-century version of the welcome wagon," said Bridgett Siter, tour guide and Directorate of Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation marketing specialist.
"We take our guests for a spin around Main Post, stopping here and there to let them meet some of the folks who work behind the scenes to make Fort Benning fabulous, and then we drive out to Kelley Hill and Harmony Church, just for a glimpse of the greater Fort Benning. We talk a lot about the history of the post, the facilities and programs available to them and some of the features and events unique to Fort Benning. We even introduce them to our favorite Fort Benning ghost. And when all that is said and done, we feed them a very fine lunch and send them home with lots of goodies, including a coupon book valued at more than $250."
And that's all at no cost to tour-goers.
Organized by the Relocation Readiness Office and sponsored by Ranger Joe's, the tour runs every third Thursday of the month. The bus leaves from Army Community Service Headquarters at Building 7 at 9 a.m. and returns by 1:30 p.m.
While open to service members, retirees and civilian employees new to Fort Benning, it's especially helpful for spouses stationed here less than a year, "even if they've lived here before -- so much has changed in the past few years," Siter said.
Highlights of the tour include Riverside, Doughboy Stadium, Ridgway Hall, Russ Park and Lawson Army Airfield. More than 70 sites are mentioned in all, but the ride isn't a seminar on wheels. It includes helpful tips -- like when to get deals at the PX, where the best picnic spots are and how to stay in-the-know on free offers -- and colorful stories about Native Americans, four-star generals and one stray dog who rose to monumental (as in, on a monument) fame.
"It was entertaining," said Monica Walser, who PCSed here in February and expects to stay for at least another year. "We live right here on Main Post, so I've been driving around and seeing things and kind of know my way around the streets, but … when you're driving you're not necessarily sightseeing. I found out where some other buildings and services are."
Walser said she learned not just about the history of post but also some of what is planned for Fort Benning's future.
Shannon Schwab, who had only been on post for 10 days before she took the April Newcomers Tour, said learning so much about the installation made her proud of its Army heritage and "proud to serve and be here."
"It was informative," said Schwab, one of 22 people who took the tour. "I've enjoyed the history of it, the format, the way they went about it. It's a little bit of everything you need to know about life on Fort Benning and what makes Fort Benning Fort Benning. It's really an amazing place to be. For me, it was nice to see the layout of where everything is -- to orient where I'm at."
Before lunch at the Benning Conference Center, the tour includes three stops: Outdoor Recreation, the Auto Skills Center and the Family Entertainment Center. Participants are encouraged to ask questions during the ride and then fill out a quick survey at the end to offer feedback.
After the tour, Army wife Emily Peake, said seeing the places helped her put everything in context with what she's only heard about.
"It's not like getting online and reading about post. It was a lot more interactive," she said. "I loved getting the history and seeing the houses where Patton and Eisenhower lived. It helped to give us ownership of the post instead of feeling separate from it."
The stories are ultimately what make this tour different. Or, as Siter said, "the best newcomers tour in the Army, hands down."
"Fun stories, funny stories, inspiring stories, scary stories -- we've got them all on Fort Benning," she said. "I like to see the transformation that takes place from the start of the tour, when a bunch of strangers climb on board a bus, until the end of the day, when we're all members of the Fort Benning family. Moving is hard. We've got four hours to convince folks this is truly a great place to live and serve. That's my goal."
The event concludes with some more freebies and information on area services, followed by door prizes. The tour is open only to adults, so free child care is provided for children enrolled in Child, Youth & School services. Registration for the next tour, set for May 17, is due Tuesday.
For more information, call 706-545-0403 or 706-545-8783.