Celebrating the centennial: Reflecting on 100 years of leadership

FORT BENNING, Ga. — If there’s one place at Fort Benning that resonates with the rich history of the installation, it’s Riverside, the home of the Commanding General. As Fort Benning begins its centennial celebration, we thought what better way to capture the spirit of its first 100 years than to tour the place the commanding generals call home.

Riverside is actually older than Fort Benning itself. The home, which sits on 18 acres, was built in 1909 by Columbus Businessman Arthur Bussey.

Just walking up to this place is breathtaking.

“Well you know, it’s not only a lovely home for the commanding general here at Fort Benning, but it’s also a touch of the South and a little touch of the culture of Columbus, and we’re just privileged to be here, but I’d like to show it to you if I could,” says Major General Eric Wesley.

Major General Eric Wesley assumed Command of the Maneuver Center of Excellence at Fort Benning in March of 2016 and from day one he’s been a student of the Post’s storied history.

“The unique aspect of this installation is it was spawned by the leadership of Columbus. And WWI is kicking off in 1917 and they see that the world is changing and they wanted to be a part of it. So the Chamber and the City Council go up to Washington and they lobby to have a post here in Columbus, GA which became Fort Benning,” says Major General Eric Wesley.

“They originally gave us about an 85-acre plot down there by what is now City Hall,” says General Wesley.

“At the time they started there and they said, hey, we need more space. So they came out here to the plantation of the Bussey family. We’ve got their picture right here at the top… the original owners of this home,” says General Wesley.

“When the government acquired the land from the family, ever since then every commander of Fort Benning, GA has stayed in this house. And all their pictures are lined here along  the wall. And we harken the times they were here by these plates and the years that they served,” says General Wesley.

Among the generals whose photos are proudly displayed at Riverside are those who decided to make Columbus their home in retirement, like Sam Wetzel, Kenneth Leuer, Carmen Cavezza, Jerry White and Walter Wojdakowski.

“Let me show you the most famous commander here at Fort Benning. His name is Omar Bradley. You all know who he is one of our 5-star generals. He was here in 1941, served as the commandant. Later went over to Europe and earned all the way up to his fifth star,” says General Wesley.

One of General Wesley’s lighter moments on the tour also involved General Bradley.

“This love seat or settee as it is called belonged to him. This was his piece of furniture. Before I took command I went to visit Gen. (Robert) Brown. And he said, you know there’s a ghost at Riverside. And I said, oh really? He said it’s Gen. Bradley. He gets up every night and goes and sits in his chair. He said you’ll notice that at night you’ll fluff up the chair, and when you come  down in the morning, it’s as if someone is sitting there. I don’t take ghost stories too seriously very often. But a few months later, my wife heard this barking of our dog out here. She came out and the dog is sitting right here barking at the chair,” says General Wesley.

The rooms of this remarkable home are also sleeping with war stories.

“It probably gives you food for thought as to the strategies, the thoughts of battle and battle plans that perhaps were germinated right here in the walls of Riverside,” says Phil Scoggins.

“That’s exactly the point. Sometimes I have some of our junior officers come through here and I tell them that in  1941 Omar Bradley, who we just talked about, was living in this house. And you know who else was living here at the time was a guy named Col. George Patton. And Col. Patton at the time was training up the Second Armor Division, and they were both living here at the same time. And you can imagine…you’ve got Gen. Bradley and Col. Patton walking these floors and they’re saying to each other, what’s going on in Europe? What might be happening in Europe and how might we tackle this problem? And so I said these things come around. Here were are in 2017 and we’re saying to ourselves…what’s going on in Europe? What’s President Putin doing and what might we have to do? So these things are relevant to talk about these leaders, again leadership, those who have gone before us and  they’ve dealt with these problems in similar, maybe analogous ways,” says General Wesley.

The walls of Riverside are not only decorated with portraits of generals. You’ll see the first Medal of Honor recipients for both Infantry and Armor. And also the first three female ranger graduates. The dining room features a long wooden table that belonged to General George Patton. As General Wesley reflects on those who have come before him, he’s also enthused about what lies ahead for Fort Benning.

“If we’re going to revise how we’re going to fight in the future, the origins of that thinking comes from Fort Benning. So we always have one foot in the present and one foot into the future,” says General Wesley.

“And then I would also, if I could finish with this, I would note that it’s not just about the last 100 years. We’re using the last 100 years to think about the next 100 years,” says General Wesley.

“There’s mutual benefits for the city of Columbus when you think about how the Army will change in the next 20, 30, 40, 50 years, and I think those benefits will not only be for the Army but for the people of Columbus,” says General Wesley.

 

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