By Cheryl Rodewig, THE BAYONETJuly 30, 2009
FORT BENNING GA - Old Bill and Follow Me are standing side by side. Right now, the 12-foot bronze sculptures are in Loveland, Colo., but soon, they'll be here, where they'll be prominent fixtures at the new Maneuver Center of Excellence.
The Trooper of the Plains, also known as Old Bill, and the Follow Me statue, representing the Armor and Infantry branches respectively, will sit on top of two 50-foot pedestals near the Victory Drive overpass on I-185, said John Flournoy, chairman of the Columbus Gateway Foundation, which is funding the project. They will form part of the new "gateway" to Fort Benning.
The sculptures were cast by Bronze Services of Loveland earlier this year but won't be shipped to Georgia until the landscaping is ready. Flournoy said he expects them to be in place in February or March of next year.
The $5.5 million entryway will include 10 American flags on each side of the road. Each flag will have a 20-foot fountain in front of it. Both the flags and the fountains will be lighed at night.
Old Bill and Follow Me will face visitors as they enter Fort Benning. Exiting, visitors will see two bronze and steel eagles on 50-foot columns on either side of the interstate.
"The eagles were chosen because they're a symbol of American freedom," Flournoy said. "They're bald eagles in flight, their wings are spread out 12 feet wide."
On the north side of the bridge, bronze letters will spell out Fort Benning, Georgia, and on the south side, Columbus, Georgia.
The new gateway will be visible for quite some distance, Flournoy said, especially at night.
"It will be something special ... the first impression when you come on Fort Benning," he said.
Flournoy said he hopes the gateway will identify Fort Benning as a significant source of power and improve morale for the thousands of people who visit, live or work on post.
Flournoy will be honored today at the Fort Benning quarterly recognition of excellence breakfast. MG Michael Ferriter, the post commanding general, will present Flournoy with a Follow Me statue to thank him for his work on the gateway.
"He's a former Marine with a heart for the military," said Bridgett Siter, with the Maneuver Center of Excellence public affairs. "He has worked doggedly over the past few years to see to it that this gateway will make a powerful statement about how we value the Fort Benning community and the Soldiers who serve this nation."
An initiative from the local community, the project shows community support for the installation, said Jay Brown, the post Base Realignment and Closure program manager.
After BRAC was announced, Flournoy assessed the main entrance to post as "non-distinctive" - it didn't fit with the caliber of the future Maneuver Center of Excellence, Brown said.
After the gateway's completion, slated for summer 2010, anyone entering post will know that it is one of the premier training installations in the Army, he said.
All current construction near the main gate is related to one of two Georgia Department of Transportation projects: the widening of I-185 to three lanes on each side or the lengthening of the on and off ramps at exits 1A and 1B to allow for easier acceleration and deceleration.
The first project will take about 18 months to two years to complete, said David Spear, press secretary for the Georgia DoT. Work on the exit ramps will be completed by October.
Construction on the gateway should begin in a few weeks, Flournoy said.