Fort Benning and its soldiers have sacrificed in every global conflict
By BEN WRIGHT | Columbus Ledger-Enquirer | Published: October 26, 2018
COLUMBUS, Ga. (Tribune News Service) — From the wars on terrorism in Iraq and Afghanistan to the Vietnam War and World War II, Fort Benning has been at the center of training men and women for conflicts around the world.
“Fort Benning is the center for the maneuver preparation for units going into combat,” said Gary Jones, executive vice president of government and military affairs at the Greater Columbus Georgia Chamber of Commerce.
One hundred years after Fort Benning was established to train infantry soldiers, the war on terrorism has lasted longer than any conflict for the U.S. military. It’s entering its 18th year in Afghanistan and the fight is led by Lt. Gen. Scott Miller, the former commander of the Maneuver Center of Excellence at Fort Benning.
The local post has always had to study the impact of war, gather information on the impact of war and how to always better train and prepare men and women going into combat, said Jones, who retired as an Army colonel.
“Fort Benning plays an absolutely critical role in the war on terrorism and that is training the infantry force, the armor force,” he said of units like the Rangers, soldiers from other services and also Army civilians. “If there is a single war that they have played a greater role, I think the answer is they played an equally important role in all wars. Their longest commitment focused on any specific war now deals with the war on terrorism because it had been going on now for some 18 years.”
Jones said Miller, the former Benning commander, understands strategically and tactically what needs to be done in Afghanistan.
“I have complete confidence and faith that his campaign strategy will produce positive results,” he said.
With the Infantry and Armor schools on post, Fort Benning plays a critical role in tactical training, doctrine and production of men and women in the infantry, armor and other services. As soldiers join units, they are prepared to deal with the realities of the war on terror, Jones said.
In March 2003, the former 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division based at Fort Benning was at the tip of the spear of Operation Iraqi Freedom when the unit crossed the Kuwait-Iraq border into Baghdad.
During the Vietnam War, air assault units in the 1st Cavalry Division were tested and trained at Fort Benning.
Joe Galloway, a former war correspondent and retired columnist for McClatchy Newspapers, learned much about Fort Benning with the late Lt. Gen. Harold Moore. Galloway and Moore co-authored “We Were Soldiers Once, and Young,” a book about the first major battle in Vietnam between the U.S. Army and the North Vietnamese Army in the Central Highlands.
A lieutenant colonel at the time, Moore formed the air mobile 11th Air Assault Division at Fort Benning in 1964. In Vietnam, he was commander of the 1st Battalion, 7th Cavalry Regiment during the battle of Ia Drang in November 1965.
The regiment had about 450 soldiers but was outnumbered by more than 2,000 soldiers. Galloway realized the impact of training at Benning with the success Moore achieved on the battlefield. “I think of the absolute honor and privilege I had to stand beside him and the crucial battle of the Vietnam War at Landing Zone X-Ray,” Galloway said Thursday.
Galloway recalled how he struggled to reach Moore after he and five other journalists were dropped off at an artillery base about 3 miles away. He talked to Moore’s operations officer and convinced him to get approval to hitch a ride on a helicopter delivering ammo.
Moore thought Galloway was crazy to come into the battle zone. He remembers what Moore said over the radio in his answer for Galloway to join him.
“If he’s crazy enough to want to come in here and you got room, bring him.”
The battle ended after a three-day bloodbath where 600 enemy soldiers died. The two became close friends after the battle and both knew they had to write a book. Research for the book brought Galloway to Fort Benning in the 1980s.
Galloway, 76, said he learned about Moore’s close relationship with Fort Benning from his memories of training his battalion to get ready to go to Vietnam.
“He took me on tours of Kelley Hill and where his headquarters were, where they had weekly battalion parades and everybody marching up and down,” he said. “They even believed in the history of the unit and the post. He emphasized that as an important part in building morale in the unit and making a very tightly, cohesive fighting outfit.”
The book, “We Were Soldiers Once, and Young,” was released in 1992 and was a New York Times best-seller. It was the basis for an acclaimed movie with actor Mel Gibson portraying Moore, who died in February 2017 in Auburn, Ala.
If you are veteran of World War II, soldiers played the greatest role with the creation of the first airborne units at Fort Benning. The first test platoon made its first jump over Lawson Field in August 1940. More airborne units were activated to create a centralized training facility at Fort Benning by May 1942.
Some bases come and go but Fort Benning has been in the region for a century, Galloway said. “The post has almost total support of the community around it,” he said. “It has occupied that very vital place, training infantry, both enlisted and officers. The infantry ends and begins at Fort Benning.”
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