Fort Benning Public Affairs
FORT BENNING, Ga. – The Army has added a new unit to share the task of training new recruits here for service with the Infantry, a unit whose lineage includes action during the World War II Battle of the Bulge.
The 197th Infantry Brigade, which was inactivated in 2013 here, was reactivated July 31 on the parade ground of the National Infantry Museum, just outside Fort Benning.
The reactivation will double Fort Benning's capacity to train recruits to serve with the Infantry, and comes as the Army has extended such training from 14 weeks to 22, part of an effort to more thoroughly train Soldiers. The training is known as Infantry One-Station Unit Training, or OSUT.
The 198th Infantry Brigade, which also trains Soldiers for the Infantry here, will continue to do so. Both brigades are part of the U.S. Army Maneuver Center of Excellence, which trains Soldiers for the Infantry and Armor branches, which together make up the Army's maneuver force.
During the ceremony, which went forward under overcast skies on the green expanse of the museum's Inouye Field, Col. Bart G. Hensler assumed command of the 197th, a brigade whose motto is "Sledgehammer." Command Sgt. Maj. Victor M. Benavides is the brigade's senior enlisted leader.
"It is great to have the 197th back at Fort Benning where they belong," said Maj. Gen. Patrick J. Donahoe, commanding general of the MCoE and Fort Benning. Donahoe served as reviewing officer for the ceremony.
"It's good to have 'em home," he said. "This is an incredible day to reactivate the 197th Infantry Brigade. It's all because the Army's decided to train fully our Infantry Soldier" by expanding OSUT to 22 weeks.
"The brigade has this incredible history here at Fort Benning," said Donahoe, "dating back to the Vietnam era when the brigade was really a group of professional, Vietnam combat-hardened veterans, who trained all of our Infantry Soldiers here through what was one of the two largest brigades in our Army, our separate brigades, both 197th and 194th that was up at Fort Knox," he said.
Both those brigades were "instrumental" in training the maneuver force in the late 1970s and 1980s, a force that later, during the Gulf War against Iraq, "would dominate the fourth-largest army in the world," during Operation Desert Storm.
In the audience were former senior leaders and other veterans of the brigade.
"It is those veterans who did that," said Donahoe. "It is you veterans of the 197th that sit among us that did that. So thank you."
Referring to Hensler and Benavides, "it is with absolute, full confidence that you two stride out today in leadership of Sledgehammer," Donahoe said.
The brigade will have the "awesome responsibility" of taking recruits and training them to be "the most lethal Infantry Soldiers in the world," he said.
It is currently staffed with one battalion, but will have a total of five in place in the course of this year.
Reactivating the brigade, Hensler said during his remarks as new commander, represented a "doubling down on the Army's commitment to meet its end strength, as well as train the world's greatest Infantry Soldiers – the future leaders of fire teams, squads, platoons – the most basic building blocks of success in close combat."
Recruits sent to the brigade will receive "rigorous training, preparing them to integrate, deploy, fight, win and survive anywhere on the planet," Hensler said.
Hensler is a graduate of the United States Military Academy at West Point and was commissioned as an Infantry officer. His assignments have included those of rifle platoon leader, scout platoon leader, rifle company commander, battalion operations officer, and brigade operations officer. In addition, he has commanded the 6th Ranger Training Battalion at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida, and has also served as an adviser to the Saudi Arabian National Guard.
He has also graduated from the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College and the U.S. Army War College. Units he's served with include, among others, the 82nd Airborne Division, 173rd Airborne Brigade, and 75th Ranger Regiment.
He has earned the Expert Infantryman Badge, Combat Infantryman Badge, Ranger Tab, Air Assault Badge and Master Parachutist Badge, and has been awarded the Bronze Star, the Defense Meritorious Service Medal, and the Meritorious Service Medal.
Benavides enlisted in the Army and became an Infantryman, completing One-Station Unit Training and Airborne School here at Fort Benning. He has served as a rifleman, SAW gunner, team leader, squad leader, marksmanship instructor, platoon sergeant, first sergeant, operations sergeant major, and chief operations sergeant major, among other assignments.
He has earned the Ranger Tab, Combat Infantryman Badge, Expert Infantryman Badge, Air Assault Badge, Parachutist Badge, as well as Italian, Spanish, and German parachutist badges.
Among his decorations are the Bronze Star, the Purple Heart, the Meritorious Service Medal, Army Commendation Medal, Army Achievement Medal, and the Good Conduct Medal.
Units Benavides has served with include the 82nd Airborne Division, 25th Infantry Division, 1st Infantry Division, and 4th Infantry Division.
During World War II the brigade saw service with the 99th Infantry Division and received campaign credit for operations in the Rhineland, Ardennes-Alsace, and Central Europe.
In later years it was the subject of several inactivations and other changes. During the Gulf War it served as part of the 24th Mechanized Infantry Division. It was inactivated shortly after returning from the war, and reactivated in 2007 at Fort Benning as an Infantry training unit, before being inactivated in 2013.
The brigade's motto is "Sledgehammer." It's known unofficially and with a touch of classic GI humor as the "dollar ninety-seven," as in $1.97, and also as the "Buck and Change" brigade and the "Bite the Bullet" brigade because of the red bullet at the center of its shoulder patch.