I can’t even begin to count the number of Soldiers and veterans who’ve trashed talked Fort Benning and its neighboring town of Columbus, GA to me when I got my orders. While it’s mostly humorous, it always begs the question, “When were you last at Fort Benning?” Realistically, if you haven’t been to Fort Benning since 2010 or if your most recent experience was Basic Training or AIT, then I’d venture to say that you didn’t get the full experience. So, step away from the hater-ade and allow me to explain why you should give Fort Benning another chance.
1. It’s the Land of Opportunity
Remember when you were stationed at Fort Riley or Fort Bliss and you begged and pleaded to go to Airborne school, or any school for that matter, and you were told to pound sand? Aside from being the Mecca for Infantry and Armor schools, Fort Benning is a great place to be no matter what branch you’re in. As a TRADOC installation (Training & Doctrine Command), the post is your oyster. Drop a 4187 and literally walk out the door to attend whatever school you fancy. Now, of course you still need chain of command approval, but for the most part there’s no hassling with government travel cards, settling travel vouchers, leaving your family to their own devices, promising your first born in order to pay for ‘ol Sparky’s kennel fees. So what’s your poison? Pathfinder? Airborne? Air Assault? Rrrrrranger!! Cavalry Leaders Course? Sniper, Master Gunner, Army Reconnaissance Course, Tank Commander, Stryker Leader Course, Military Marksmanship….the list goes on and on.
2. Maneuver Center of Excellence
One of the best things about being at Fort Benning these days is that it’s home to the Maneuver Center of Excellence. A few years back it was exclusively the home of the Infantry, and that’s nothing to turn your nose up at. But maybe you thought, if I’m not Infantry, then why would I want to go to Benning? Well, since about 2011, Fort Benning has transformed into the home of pretty much all maneuver warfighters and has spent countless dollars building the Maneuver Center of Excellence (MCoE). Now, the MCoE refers to the entirety of Fort Benning, but it’s piece de resistance is McGinnis-Wickam Hall…6 stories of mega-imposing concrete and glass complete with bronze statues and American flags galore. It’s like the Death Star for maneuver branches…the headquarters, if you will. It’s gorgeous and extreme. My point of all this being that if you’re not Infantry, you don’t have to worry about not fitting in at Fort Benning. There’s something there for all branches, but if you’re Infantry or Armor in particular, it’s your mothership.
3. The Center of Everything
This point can really be combined with my previous point, but there’s merit to mentioning it separately. Fort Benning thinks it’s the center of the Army’s universe. And how does that old saying go? I think, therefore I am. Because Fort Benning is home to the Maneuver Center of Excellence and is the premier training installation for all things Army, you will be blown away by the attention the installation receives from the country’s leaders. Every week it seems like there are multiple visits from Generals or Congressional Staff delegations who are checking to make sure our national treasure is in full working order. Now I’m not saying that this doesn’t come with more frequent dog and pony shows. But with the big-wigs come some pretty cool seminars and conferences that are open to everybody, i.e. the annual Maneuver Warfighter Conference. You have the opportunity to hear directly from the horse’s mouth what changes are a’brewing for the nation and the armed forces.
4. Let’s Talk Columbus
Ok, for 90% of you (made up statistic), location is the determining factor for your next duty station. Realistically speaking, it’s the towns surrounding military installations that make or break the post. For Fort Benning, that town is Columbus and I’m here to tell you, it’s worth a second chance. I get it, you’d much rather go to Hawaii or Fort Lewis where you can enjoy the island lifestyle or sip a hand-crafted cappuccino while walking through the world class farmers markets in Seattle. What you may not realize is that Columbus has undergone a significant renovation in the last 5 years. City developers have refurbished old buildings and enticed the area’s best entrepreneurs to create what is now a lively and beautiful downtown (and by downtown, I mean uptown) scene. Lining the heart of uptown are some pretty amazing restaurants and unique bars and shops that you’d typically see in big cities.
Check out my Instagram to see some of the best that Columbus has to offer. So, maybe you last visited Columbus in the 80’s or maybe even as recently as 2010 and thought mmm, no thanks. Take another visit and you’ll be blown away by the renovation along the waterfront. Snag yourself a gorgeous loft apartment overlooking the river and be just a short walk away from great restaurants and a buzzing nightlife.
Because of it’s location in the Southeast, Fort Benning has managed to create special partnerships with several well-known universities. These partnerships make it so Soldiers just need to go to the on-post Army Continuing Education Center to speak to a real live university representative who has a permanent desk there. As a student at the Maneuver Captains Career Course (MCCC), you have the opportunity to earn your Masters Degree from Columbus State University through a program that is tailored to Officers at the MCCC. Fort Huachuca has something similar for the Military Intelligence Captains Career Course students, but believe me, I’ve reviewed both programs, and the Fort Benning program is significantly more reasonable.
Anyways, if you’re not a MCCC student, don’t worry, Fort Benning is paired with 10 major universities to include Auburn, Columbus State, Troy and others. Emory University (home to a top 20 business school) is also located in Atlanta (less than 2 hours away) and offers several degree programs on the weekends that are much better suited to your military schedule.
Photo by John D. Helms