MG Michael Barbero promises a smooth transition as he prepares to exit this month as commander of the U.S. Army Infantry Center and Fort Benning. He said he only wishes he could be around to witness the historic changes taking place here.
On June 24, he'll turn over the leadership post to MG Michael Ferriter during a change-of-command ceremony on Soldiers Field next to the National Infantry Museum and Soldier Center at Patriot Park.
Ferriter is set to arrive from Fort Bragg, N.C., where he's currently the effects coordinator for the 18th Airborne Corps. The Army hasn't officially announced Barbero's future assignment.
"It's sad leaving. Fort Benning is a tremendous place," Barbero said. "It's a wonderful community ... I will miss so much of it. It's a great post (and) we have great leaders here."
Barbero has served two tours in Iraq. Most recently, he spent 16 months in Baghdad as the director of combined joint operations for Multi-National Forces-Iraq.
He became commanding general of USAIC and Fort Benning in November.
On May 27, Barbero discussed his short tenure and thoughts about the considerable transformation taking place here.
The future Maneuver Center of Excellence is set to become fully operational in two years. It's among the Base Realignment and Closure initiatives mandated by Congress, highlighted by the relocation of Fort Knox's Armor Center and School to Fort Benning.
Barbero said the merger of the Infantry and Armor centers under one roof will make the Army a more efficient machine.
"We'll bring our Armor brothers on board, and make sure they're set for the tremendous expansion that's planned," he said. "The Army has dramatically changed the way it trains. Soldiers must be ready to join a unit and go right to war in Afghanistan and Iraq. We have to make sure it's relevant training, Soldiers are staying current and we're building adaptive leaders to fight."
Meanwhile, grand opening for the $100 million National Infantry Museum and Soldier Center at Patriot Park is in two weeks.
Barbero said it's a "world-class facility" and great asset for Fort Benning, adding he'd like to see it become the area's premier attraction and economic success many have predicted.
But the museum certainly holds greater meaning, he said.
"It really honors the sacrifice and commitment of our ground Soldiers, from the Revolutionary War to the present," he said.
When Barbero arrived at Fort Benning, he pledged to improve quality of life for families. The general said he was part of an effort to extend child-care hours and services at Smith Fitness Center.
But schools became his top issue, he said. About 6,800 additional Army children are expected at Fort Benning by September 2011 because of Base Realignment and Closure.
Barbero said he coordinated with state and local officials to prepare for the influx. Last month, Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue came to Fort Benning to sign two bills easing the transition of military students between schools as they relocate because of an active-duty parent.
"We want to maintain the high level of education we have now (and) make sure the children coming here can get that, too," Barbero said.
Within training circles, the general said he'd miss Army graduations, particularly the reactions of parents as they observe a child's metamorphosis from adolescent to Soldier.
"They're so proud and awestruck," he said. "To feel their pride and sense of accomplishment is a special moment for me."
Barbero heaped praise on his replacement, calling Ferriter a "tremendous Infantryman" and the ideal candidate to lead Fort Benning into this new era. He also said the top-level command sergeant majors are staying put, which will make the changeover even more seamless.
"Given all our missions, I don't think you can ever walk away and say everything is done," Barbero said about the past seven months. "You're always trying to improve and make things better. But I walk away from this job feeling proud I was a member of a great team."