By Vince Little, The BayonetJune 27, 2012
FORT BENNING, Ga. - The Armor and Infantry School commandants arrived at Fort Benning last June within a day of each other. On Friday, they went out together.
Brig. Gen. Thomas James and Col. Walter Piatt bid farewell to the Maneuver Center of Excellence during a departure ceremony in Marshall Auditorium at McGinnis-Wickam Hall. Piatt leaves for Fort Drum, N.Y., where he'll become the 10th Mountain Division's deputy commanding general. The 46th chief of Armor, meanwhile, is slated to assume duties as deputy commanding general (maneuver) for the 1st Cavalry Division at Fort Hood, Texas.
"These are two extraordinary officers who brought me and Command Sgt. Maj. (James) Carabello in and got us grounded," said Maj. Gen. H.R. McMaster, the MCoE and Fort Benning commanding general. "This ceremony is really a celebration of the exceptional performance of duty of two great leaders and what they have accomplished. It reminds us that we are part of a living historical community."
To showcase that "Spirit of Fort Benning," 10 Soldiers emerged on stage wearing period uniforms ranging from the American Revolution to modern day, standing as a tribute to the half a million troops who have trained here since the post's establishment as Camp Benning in October 1918.
James and Piatt added to the legacy as key players behind the unification of Infantry and Armor last September under the Maneuver Center, McMaster told the audience. He said they helped return Fort Benning to its early 20th century roots while also bringing innovative change to Army doctrine, organizational design and materiel development.
"The power of the Infantry School and the Cavalry and Armor Schools coming together is already vastly improving our Army's combat effectiveness," the commanding general said.
"That potential, however, would not have been realized without the wise, inspirational leadership and team effort that Tom and Walt brought to bear. … In a true combined-arms effort, these two professionals drove integrated approaches to education, leader development and training."
James praised his predecessor, Brig. Gen. Ted Martin, for laying down a solid foundation.
"The team he built did all the hard work getting the Armor School here," he said. "I just came over from Fort Stewart (Ga.) and (fell) in on this enormous facility … that our nation gave to us to build the premier mounted warfare center in the world."
Ahead of Armor's move from Fort Knox, Ky., a healthy amount of skepticism came from both sides, McMaster said. James and Piatt worked hard to bridge that gap and fulfill the MCoE's promise.
"When historians write about how our Army adapted and innovated in the midst of war, they will hail the leadership of Brigadier General Tom James and Colonel Walt Piatt," he said.
Piatt's first taste of Fort Benning came in 1979 when he showed up for basic training. To return as the 52nd chief of Infantry was unforgettable, he said.
Columbus and the Chattahoochee Valley make up the "greatest community" in the military, the colonel said.
He said he's glad to have played a role in bringing Infantry and Armor together at one location, adding it'll pay dividends in the operational force for decades to come.
"If you're going to fight together, you need to train together. It was too long in coming," Piatt said. "The state of the Infantry is strong. It's always been strong, but since the Armor School got here and we're integrated now, we're much stronger."
"It ain't about a branch -- it's about service to our nation," he said.
The general said Fort Benning was a unique assignment for him and his Family. Serving alongside Piatt made it even more memorable.
"Walt Piatt is a personal hero of mine. There (is) none better," James said. "He got here a day after we did. It's pretty special to be leaving together.
"It's been a great ride. I have lots of fond memories. … The community here is phenomenal, just how they embrace Soldiers and leaders. We'd come back in a heartbeat, given the opportunity."
The Army hasn't announced replacements for James or Piatt at the Maneuver Center.