FORT BENNING, Ga. -- The Maneuver Center of Excellence made it official Thursday afternoon.
In a largely symbolic event - since the MCOE officially cranked up operations Oct. 1 - the command's flag was unfurled and its leaders' new roles highlighted during an activation ceremony in the courtyard behind the Ridgway Hall headquarters building.
"It's a great day, any way you look at it," said Maj. Gen. Michael Ferriter, Fort Benning's commander, who became the inaugural MCOE commander on the first day of the fiscal year. "It's a great day to be a Soldier serving in the greatest Army in the world. It's a great day to serve at the greatest Army installation in the world - an installation that's making history here today."
"Collocating Infantry and Armor will allow us to capitalize on the strengths of the two greatest military forces in the world. They will train as they fight - together. One force, one fight. Separately, they are formidable. Together, they will make a maneuver force unlike anything this world has ever seen."
The U.S. Army Infantry Center was formally shut down Thursday and its flag cased as Ferriter's deputy, Col. Bryan Owens, supplanted him as the Infantry School commandant.
Maj. Gen. James Milano retains his title as commanding general of the U.S. Army Armor Center and Fort Knox, Ky. He presented the Armor School flag to Col. Mike Wadsworth on behalf of Col. David Teeples, the school's new commandant.
Fort Knox has been Armor's home since 1940. It'll be another 18 months before the Armor School's final elements pull out for Fort Benning.
"Do we have regrets leaving Fort Knox after seven decades' Absolutely," Milano said. "But we have orders and we're moving out with our heads held high ... There's a ton of work to do, but we look forward to the challenges."
The MCOE transformation began in 2005 after the Base Realignment and Closure committee's decision to relocate the Armor Center and School from Fort Knox to Fort Benning. Under the reorganization, all Infantry and Armor second lieutenants, captains and noncommissioned officers will train at Fort Benning - along with 52 percent of all new Soldiers.
Ferriter said the Infantry and Armor relationship is "long and colorful" as the two have collaborated for decades. Now, they're aiming to reshape the Army by creating a more agile, adaptive, lethal and leaner force.
"Experience tells us we win wars when we adopt a partnership and a policy of coherent operations," he said. "Transforming Fort Benning to the (MCOE) postures our Army for success. A successful Army bodes well for freedom at home and around the world. Together, we will focus on our number one priority - training great American Soldiers. In that respect, it will be business as usual at Fort Benning."
Although Armor has consolidated with the Infantry Center and School, both branches will maintain their own identities.
Milano said Thursday's ceremony was a "critical event" in Army history that transcends Cavalry and Infantry lines.
"It's bigger than either of the individual branches, and what we do from this day forward will have far-reaching effects on the United States Army," he said.
Fourteen Soldiers and 29 civilians are assigned to the MCOE but those figures will climb to 450 and 1,200, respectively, in the next two years.
"You get a sense that around the Army, folks have not yet grasped how profound, or important, this is," said Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command's commanding general. "Physically, we can move flags around like we did today, but it's the teamwork and leadership who will manage this transition and reach its potential."
Dempsey said the Infantry-Armor unification at Fort Benning "makes perfect sense" in a global climate ripe with complex threats and challenges facing the United States.
"We'll find places where we can integrate our activities and find the best outcomes for the nation," he said.
During the next four years, the post is scheduled to complete $3.5 billion in construction, much of it aimed at developing Harmony Church to accommodate Armor and Cavalry Soldiers and hardware in 2011. The area also will be home to an Armed Forces Reserve and Equipment Concentration Site, scheduled for construction next year, as about 1,200 of equipment are relocated from Fort Gillem, Ga., under BRAC.
Building 4, formerly known as Infantry Hall, is being renovated and expanded to house MCOE headquarters at a future date. Construction on an Armor museum is expected to begin in two years.
Dempsey called Ferriter and Milano the "linchpins" for successfully bringing the entire package together. "I'm very confident that in the next 18 months ... these two great enthusiasts will lead the way," he said.
Fort Benning supports more than 120,000 Soldiers, family members, civilians and retirees on a daily basis. That number is forecast to grow by approximately 30,000 before 2011 as the move leads to about 11,000 new jobs on the installation for Soldiers, civilians and contractors, according to projections.
The post's financial impact on the tri-community already exceeds $2 billion annually, and the MCOE startup ultimately will bring 4,200 new families to the area, with the largest influx taking place in March 2011.