MILITARY MATTERS: New commanding general opens up on race, Ft. Benning history, Army’s future

MILITARY MATTERS: New commanding general opens up on race, Ft. Benning history, Army’s future

FORT BENNING, Ga. (WTVM) - Days after taking command on Fort Benning, he sat down with news Leader 9.

The new commanding general of the Maneuver Center of Excellence (MCOE) talked about everything from racism and the Army’s future, to COVID-19 and the Columbus community.

“This assignment, for my family and I, has really been a dream come true,” said Maj. Gen. Patrick Donahoe. “If I could’ve picked any job in the Army to have, coming out of South Korea this year, it would’ve been coming back to Fort Benning.”

He calls Fort Benning a magical place. Donahoe was chief of staff there up until four years ago. His last job was Deputy Commanding General of Operations of the 8th U.S. Army in South Korea, a place where the Villanova alum was also first assigned as a young soldier in 1989. The now-leader of MCOE has a lot of pride in the home of the Infantry and Armor and Calvary.

“It’s our infantry soldier who’s willing to mount up in a Bradley. It’s our infantry soldier who’s willing to parachute out of a high performance aircraft. It’s the soldier who joins the Rangers,” Donahoe said.

The most important thing Fort Benning is doing now, according to its new commanding general, is stopping the spread of COVID-19, so they can keep training soldiers. Donahoe has other priorities after that.

“My number one goal, at that point, post-COVID, will be to rebuild the incredible relationship between Columbus, Phenix City, the Chattahoochee Valley, and your Army post,” Donahoe said, pointing to himself.

News Leader 9 asked about the debate over the post not being called Fort Benning, since it’s named after a Confederate general, as the Secretary of the Army has said they’re looking at that.

“No matter what you call the place, we are critically important to what the Army does,” Donahoe added.

That turned the conversation to diversity, as the New Jersey native replaces Fort Benning’s first African-American Commanding General Gary Brito.

“We as an Army have to represent the people,” Donahoe said. “The U.S. is a multicultural citizenry. We have go to reflect that. This post held one of our all black infantry regiments for 20 years.”

Donahoe had a lot of stories about Fort Benning’s “rich history” of being inclusive, like eliminating impediments for women in combat or opening doors for African-Americans. One example is this conversation between the Airborne School commandant and the first black paratrooper on guard duty with his soldiers at the obstacle course.

“He [Col. Gaithers] sees this African-American senior non-commissioned officer with his soldiers running through that PT course and he says hey, what are you doing? Donahoe explained. “You think you can do this? Be here in the morning, they show up the next morning and that’s the birth of the Triple Nickel.”

That was the 555th Infantry Parchute unit, the Army’s first black paratroopers.

“We put up false walls to capturing that talent, we’ll pay for that,” he said.

This father of three said a critical part of his mission and Fort Benning’s over the next year will be thinking about the Army’s future in dealing with evolving threats around the world.

“As we look at the explosion of technologies like hypersonic missiles, artificial intelligence, machine learning, all those disruptive technologies that are out there, what should the Army of the future, the Maneuver force of the future, what’s that tank infantry scout team look like in the future?” Donahoe said.

102 years after Fort Benning was founded, Donahoe will continue the traditions at a place where a third of all troops are trained in America.

“The pride to be able to stand in the formation with these soldiers willing to join to go do those things, and those soldiers who have come back here to train that next generation, that’s incredibly humbling. And I’ve got to earn, every day, my spot in the formation,” Donahoe said with strong conviction.

Catch part two of the in-depth conversation with the new commanding general Thursday, July 30 on WTVM news at 11 p.m. Hear him talk about COVID-19 changes and safety protocols for soldiers and civilians on Fort Benning.

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