FORT BENNING, Ga. (July 11, 2012) -- The class of lieutenants in the Armor School's Basic Officer Leader Course that kicked off unit training at the Maneuver Center of Excellence is making more history.

L Troop, 2nd Squadron, 16th Cavalry Regiment, was the first to set up at Fort Benning last summer and the first to graduate following the move from Fort Knox, Ky. Now, it's the first group to conduct a field-training exercise in the Good Hope Maneuver Training Area, which officially opened Monday.

The $50 million facility was primarily built to allow the 316th Cavalry Brigade to carry out Armor Basic Officer Leader Course, or Armor BOLC, live tank and reconnaissance maneuver training, officials said. But the 32,000-acre range is available to any unit on post looking to conduct movement drills.

"For Armor BOLC, this is huge," said Staff Sgt. Raymond Whitener, the squadron facility manager for 2-16 Cav. "It's validation of what our program is designed for to meet the training standards. Good Hope offers a lot of movement terrain. One of ABOLC's goals is to move a company-sized element in a maneuver box, so they're running different missions against each other. Here, we'll be able to move six platoons at the same time."

Lieutenants emerge from the 19-week course as Armor and Cavalry platoon leaders. They're tested on foundations, gunnery, leadership and tactics during the nine-day field-training exercise, or FTX, a stretch marked by day and night operations with little sleep in between.

"You want to simulate that combat stress," said 1st Sgt. William Lillie, L Troop's first sergeant. "This is it, the culmination of everything we've taught them. Now, it's all plug and play."

Col. Frederick Wolf, the deputy garrison commander for transformation, said Good Hope is the only area available on Fort Benning for ABOLC students to engage in full mounted maneuver training. About 850 second lieutenants attend the course each year to learn how to maneuver a platoon and conduct attack, defend and reconnaissance missions.

"The area is characterized by steep, compartmented terrain with sandy soil," he said. "It was necessary to harden the area with trails and water crossings to control erosion and make it suitable for Armor School tracked vehicle traffic. The success of this project is attributable to extraordinary close coordination among the Armor School, Army Corps of Engineers, and Fort Benning's Environmental and Range Divisions."

The Good Hope complex features a new operations building for 2-16 Cav., complete with cadre offices and classrooms to plan and review missions.

Prior to Monday's opening, ABOLC staged field-training exercises at the Digital Multi-Purpose Range Complex, or DMPRC, Lillie said. But that facility is more suited to gunnery, and the lieutenants could not maneuver tanks, Strykers or Bradleys off-road. The first sergeant said Good Hope offers more training space.

"At the DMPRC, we were restricted to lanes and limited some by boundaries, almost like a bowling alley," he said. "This is 360 (degrees). They'll have to use the whole training area. That makes it a little more realistic. An enemy could come from anywhere."

L Troop is scheduled to graduate July 27.