FORT BENNING, Ga. — Six senior cadets from the United States Military Academy at West Point visited Fort Benning to learn first-hand about the real-world implementation and use of electric vehicles and other energy resilient practices and technology.
Fort Benning is aligned as a leading installation in the adoption of electric vehicles and energy resilience technology, including in both power and water infrastructure. This was the reason why Fort Benning was selected by the cadets and their professor, Ph.D. F. Todd Davidson, as a location to study for their senior project.
“Our interdisciplinary team at West Point is working to identify opportunities to improve resilience, reduce energy costs, and minimize the environmental footprint of Army operations,” Davidson explained. “The primary goal is to increase mission readiness and ensure America maintains a sustainable fighting force.”
The cadets began by meeting with the Fort Benning garrison commander, Col. Alexis Rivera Espada, and his deputy Brandon Cockrell, to learn about big picture management aspects of institutional change and infrastructure development and how they impact long term projects. The cadets' guide for the day Whitney Ray, Fort Benning's Energy Manager, provided them an initial overview of the vastness of Fort Benning’s energy infrastructure and key points of its resilient design.
Closing the meeting, Rivera Espada highlighted the importance and value of the education the cadets are being imbued with and the critical need for them to employ it as future leaders in the U.S. Army.
"Know that you will be in combat, treat it as a certainty," said Rivera Espada. "Take what you've learned with you into your units, use it to lead Soldiers and solve the tough challenges future battlefields will present."
Fort Benning has a varied fleet of electric and hybrid vehicles, including both passenger and tactical, and even fully electric targets with armor plating used for tank crew training. This broad spectrum of use provides the perfect environment for “lessons learned.”
“This trip to Fort Benning enabled us to see the research and work we’ve been doing this year in real-time,” said Cadet Madison Faust, a mechanical engineering major.
Prior to visiting the installation, cadets had limited feedback on EV challenges and the many different roles they need to fill in practical use, such as serving as a warming or cooling station in winter and summer months, or as a mobile tool shop providing electrical power to fix target emplacements.
“We were able to witness first-hand the opportunities and challenges posed by EVs on an Army Installations,” added Faust.
Touring the Fort Benning water treatment plant provided the students with a direct look at, and deeper understanding of, the interconnected nature of electrical power and water treatment combined with the redundancy necessary to ensure resilience in these systems.
“Energy resilience is extremely important because it affects almost every aspect of our daily lives regarding quality of life,” said Cadet Forde Norris, an engineering management major. “Having sustainable access to energy and water is the bedrock for a successful Army by providing essential resources where it needs them, and when it needs them.
The Fort Benning electrical grid has multiple redundancies, including compressed natural gas-powered generators, a solar farm and automated systems designed to limit interruptions and safeguard systems.
“Having the opportunity to see the energy systems currently in place as well as the future plans for the installation firsthand was very insightful,” said Norris. “The biggest takeaway was seeing the perspective of those actually using and operating the systems to better understand how to best implement future resilience projects.”
Resilience now and in the future
The importance of resilience to a military installation is apparent to most but it only happens with constant effort and long-term planning.
“Fort Benning has worked rigorously for the past 20 years on creating a resilient and sustainable installation,” said Ray. “Sharing our experiences and lessons learned over those years on energy resiliency and sustainability, and how it relates to readiness, lays roots for a better, faster, stronger Army for future generations.”