FORT BENNING, Ga. (Sept. 22, 2009) -- "We're coming home, and we're damn excited about doing it," Maj. Gen. Mike Milano said when he took the stage alongside Maj. Gen. Michael Ferriter this morning for the Infantry Warfighting Conference State of the Infantry and Armor address.
Milano, chief of Armor and commandant of Fort Knox, Ky., was referring to the Armor Center's move to Fort Benning, where Armor and Cavalry troops trained between 1935 and 1937.
In 2005, the Base Realignment and Closure Commission decided to move the Armor School and Center to Fort Benning, Ga., and join the Infantry School under the umbrella of the Maneuver Center of Excellence, one of several "centers of excellence" born of BRAC legislation.
The transformation is underway now. The maneuver center will be designated "initial operating capable" on Oct. 1 of this year, and fully operational before Oct. 1, 2011.
With more than $1.5 billion worth of construction underway on Fort Benning's Harmony Church and another $2 billion earmarked for BRAC-related growth across the installation, Fort Knox and Fort Benning are in the midst of a "giant team-building event," said Ferriter, who will pass responsibility as chief of Infantry to Col. (P) Bryan Owens, currently his deputy commander, when Ferriter becomes the first Maneuver Center commander next month. Milano will retain his position as chief of Armor and commander of Fort Knox until the physical move is complete.
With more than 800,000 U.S. Soldiers deployed around the globe, the Infantry and Armor centers cannot afford to lose sight of their first mission during the "intensive" transformation process, Ferriter said. That is, to train ready, adaptive Soldiers for an Army at war. When the maneuver center is fully operational, more than 50 percent of all Soldiers will take initial training at Fort Benning, he said, and all Infantry and Armor officers will pass through the Basic Officer Leader Course and the Captain's Career Course.
"And when you take into consideration that in a year or two every Armor and Infantry staff sergeant will come though here," Ferriter said, it's easy to see how the maneuver center will "shape, steer and move the Army."
"That is the bottom line," Ferriter said of the anticipated troops-in-training increase from nearly 116,000 annually to 144,000, "That's where the rubber meets the road."
In spite of the "complexity and scope of the transformation," Milano said, "there will be no degradation of quality or quantity of trained Soldiers during the move." The process is complicated by Fort Knox's simultaneous transformation to the Human Resources Center of Excellence.
More than 6,500 troops are bound for Knox, even as the Armor School prepares to ship out 200 tanks, 10,000 small arms, 41 programs of instruction, 50 hands-on training systems and 4,500 cadre, Milano said.
The first of the 41 courses will end at Fort Knox in October 2010 and resume at Fort Benning in January 2011. The remaining courses will follow suit with just 90 days to wrap, pack, move and resume instruction.
"You have to remember, there are people involved - families. We have to do this right," Milano said. "It's going to be tough, but we have the right people leaning forward to make it happen."
Milano and Ferriter opened the annual Infantry Warfighting Conference at the Trade Center in Columbus, Ga., just down the road from Fort Benning, where top Army leaders have been meeting every year for more than half a century to confer on all matters Infantry centric. The conference will continue through Wednesday.