Fort Benning brigade won't travel to California for annual training

By BEN WRIGHT | Columbus (Ga.) Ledger-Enquirer | Published: February 14, 2014

At the end of this month, the 3rd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division at Fort Benning won’t be traveling to the National Training Center in California for maneuvers in the Mojave Desert.

Maj. Ellis Gales, a spokesman for the brigade, said the soldiers will remain at Kelley Hill and focus on platoon, company and battalion level training during austere times for the military. The monthlong training at Fort Irwin has been an annual rotation for the brigade soldiers to hone their skills against an enemy force assigned at the center.

Since returning to the post in March 2013 after a nine-month deployment to Kuwait, the brigade with almost 3,900 soldiers has been in a reset mode, concentrating on individual training for soldiers before completing group tasks with platoons and companies.

The Army’s cost to send soldiers 2,100 miles to the training wasn’t available.

To keep soldiers sharp, Gales said each of the six battalions has been engaged in some type of training exercise that keeps soldiers in the field for two weeks.

“I know each battalion is doing or completing their focus exercises,” Gales said.

Capt. Jeremy Herron, a tank company commander, is familiar with maneuvers at the National Training Center and at Fort Benning.

“Obviously, the big difference in training here and there is in the personnel system and the realism of leaving your family for 30 days, packing your bags and getting on a flight,” he said.

Although Fort Benning doesn’t have the wide open terrain like the desert in California, Herron said the post has world-class facilities for training soldiers. Herron said his company just returned from exercises at the Selby MOUT, Military Operations on Urban Terrain, and the McKenna MOUT.

“World-class facilities can offer you the same but maybe not the wide open terrain,” he said.

The training still offers soldiers the ability to operate in a real-life setting and lead troops in operations.

With a world-class simulation center at Fort Benning, Herron said the soldiers don’t have to travel the 2,100 miles to experience the desert environment. Any environment can be created in a couple of weeks at the center, he said.

Herron’s company entered the simulator and ended up on a battlefield similar to the desert at the National Training Center.

“It’s virtual,” Herron said. “Guys aren’t getting wet, getting dirty.”

Staying at Fort Benning also has allowed the brigade to spend more time in the community.

“Since we have been back, it’s been an opportunity to focus on community service,” Herron said. “It gives us a chance once a month to go out and do some community service.”

Last month, the brigade soldiers spent two days feeding the homeless and donating clothes at the Valley Rescue Mission on Second Avenue. “We have an obligation,” Herron said.

The “Sledgehammer” brigade also has a longtime relationship with the Boys & Girls Club of the Chattahoochee Valley.

“It gives us an opportunity to build relationships,” he said.

Paul Voorhees, a strong supporter of the military and owner of Ranger Joe’s, thought the brigade was staying put because of his idle inventory of military gear and supplies this time of the year.

“They are just not buying,” he said. “If they were going, they would be stocking up.”

A trip to the California desert usually attracts soldiers to his Victory Drive business for socks, underwear, gun cleaning equipment, cold weather gear, first-aid kits and other items.

“When they go, they have to take things with them that they normally would have or they take extra,” Voorhees said. “And when they come back, they get it fixed.”

Without the training, soldiers are left in the area to shop and spend time with their families. “There is a silver lining in everything,” Voorhees said.


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