FORT BENNING, Ga. — Georgia Army National Guard Soldiers spent nearly 10 days here as part of a joint project — giving Soldiers “stick time” on the heavy equipment that is part of their trade while reducing the installation’s footprint.
“It’s good for us,” said Staff Sgt. Westley Dozier, who is a 12N, a horizontal equipment operator, with the 878th Engineer Battalion out of Augusta and the project’s NCOIC. “It gets a lot of guys trained up, which helps when we’re doing a hurricane mission.”
He and about 20 other Soldiers volunteered for the Benning Mission — removing the concrete foundation, hauling waste, and filling and grading the land off Ingersoll Avenue on Main Post where the old Thrift Shop stood.
Last year, the installation contracted to have the building demolished, said Phil Burgess, Directorate of Public Works’ project lead.
“It had outlived its usefulness and was a safety hazard,” he said, explaining the building remained on the installation’s real property books until nothing remained, including the concrete and sub-basement. It housed the Officers’ Spouses Club at one time.
“It’s where General Patton got his first star,” said 1st Sgt. Leroderick Jackson, the 878th’s officer in charge. The building couldn’t be improved; it was cheaper to take it down. “It’s a good opportunity for new Soldiers to actually train, do their job and get the training they need.”
This project is a win-win for both the guard and the garrison, Burgess said. The guard gets training, equipment gets used and the installation is not paying for a contractor.
“(We’re) providing our servicemen with a good training opportunity,” Burgess said.
“I get great satisfaction knowing these guys are getting the opportunity to work the equipment that would otherwise be sitting in the yard,” he continued. “It’s saving the government and taxpayers a lot of money. So we’re being smart about it. Thinking about benefit versus cost and we did that here.
Sgt. Ken Carrell has been in the guard for nine years.
“The first time I deployed, we had to learn all this stuff when we got over there,” Carrell said. His first deployment was to Forward Operating Base Shank in Afghanistan’s Logar province in 2013. “On our first deployment we didn’t know how to use half of this stuff.
“A lot of these guys haven’t deployed so when they do get deployed, they will already have experience with the equipment. When we get on ground, we’re ready to roll. If you don’t use a skill, you lose the skill.
“This training is great for us and good for Fort Benning,” he said. “The guys like it when we do this kind of stuff, they really do like to get out here and use their skills. And with a little bit of direction, they’ll go ahead and knock it out.”
Maj. Gen. Patrick Donahoe, commanding general of the Maneuver Center of Excellence and Fort Benning, and Col. Matthew Scalia, garrison commander stopped by demolition site to thank the Soldiers for their work.
Regardless of its Armor and Cavalry history, this building changed so many times it had no historic value, Donahoe said.