By Bridgett SiterFebruary 17, 2009
Have you ever been smack-dab in the middle of a really good dream when the alarm clock rings'
That's the situation COL Jerry Wood found himself in last fall. Just 18 months into a "dream job" as the National Guard's SACG - that's "special assistant to the commanding general" - an assignment he anticipated would keep him at Fort Benning at least three years, Wood was offered a sweet position at TRADOC. This week, he takes office as the chief of staff at the Office of the Deputy Commanding General, Army National Guard, at Fort Monroe, Va.
"It's a great opportunity, one I certainly don't want to pass up, but I didn't expect to leave here just yet," Wood said last week, on the eve of his departure from Fort Benning. "My predecessor told me I'd be living the dream here, and he was right. I was on jump status, and was right here where I could visit with troops any time I wanted; I have been living the dream."
All TRADOC installations have a senior Guard advisor whose job is to advise the post commander on National Guard and Army Reserve issues. But not all SACG positions are created equal, Wood said. Here, his family enjoyed being part of the tightly knit Fort Benning family, and he enjoyed unequaled support "from the top down."
"I can't say enough about the Fort Benning community and the support this post gives. They've really embraced the SACG as far as being a member of the team," he said. "In any assignment, you hope the trickle down effect will work, that the support you get from the highest levels of leadership will be the same kind of support you get all the way down. But all too often it dries up. That was never the case at Fort Benning. Top to bottom, the support for what we do here and for the Guard mission is just amazing. It almost made my job easy."
Understaffed, under-funded and eager to grow the mission, particularly at the Warrior Training Center, the Guard's premier training facility on Fort Benning, Wood made it his goal to increase the number of personnel and funding to facilitate growth. Since July of 2007, he's increased the budget by 25 percent and nearly doubled manpower. There are now more than 140 full-time Guardsmen, Reservists and support personnel serving on post, including liaisons on Main Post and Sand Hill, training developers at the Total Army Training Systems cell in Infantry Hall, and the cadre of the Warrior Training Center.
The Guard started conducting PreRanger courses on Fort Benning nearly 15 years ago to combat an unacceptable attrition rate among Guardsmen attending Ranger School here. The program was so successful that in 2003, the Warrior Training Center was established in Harmony Church and more courses were added to the mission, including Combatives, Air Assault, Pathfinder, PreBradley Master Gunner and Bradley Crew Evaluator.
Wood said the climate of command confidence in the Guard stems from the early success of the PreRanger Course.
"From the start, we trained to standard, and there was no double standard," he said. "Things have changed since 9/11. There's one standard for the Army and the National Guard. We have the youngest force in the history of the Guard, and we're mobilizing 40 to 45,000 Soldiers a year, and we'll continue to do that. We're not just a strategic reserve; we're an operational force."
As a result, Wood said, he's seeing a subtle change in perceptions about the National Guard.
"Certainly this isn't your father's National Guard, and it's gratifying when people recognize that. But our primary focus can't be perceptions. We do what we do best - train to standard - and the perception problem will take care of itself in time," he said.
In his new role as the chief of staff, Wood said his job will be much the same as it was at Fort Benning, on a grander scale.
"Fort Benning sets the standard. I hope I can take some of what I learned here and export that to the other 16 TRADOC installations," he said.
Wood's wife Linse and the couple's three children will stay on post until the school year ends.
Fort Benning's new SACG, COL Steve Bapp, his wife Karen and two of their five children will arrive at Fort Benning early next month. Bapp currently serves as the chief of Foreign Terrorists and Facilitators Branch, Integration Task Force, at MacDill Air Force Base, Fla. He served as the deputy SACG at Fort Benning from 2001 to 2003.
Like Wood and his predecessor, Bapp said he's looking forward to "living the dream."
"Every combat leader needs to get back to his roots and get back with his Soldiers," he said. "That's what we do here at Fort Benning, we serve our troops, and I'm looking forward to it."