FORT STEWART, GA (WTOC) - The sign at the main gate of Fort Stewart lists the years they've been named Best Army Installation: 2004, 2005, 2006 and 2009. Garrison Commander Colonel Kevin Milton said that designation confirms what soldiers have known for years.
"There's two things that make Fort Stewart-Hunter Army Airfield special. One is geography, the other is people. Geography puts us in Coastal Georgia surrounded by 6 counties full of wonderful Americans who support us," he explained.
The troops who train here use the 285,000 acres of woodlands to practice the skills they've used to help shape history around the world.
"We have ranges for crews to train on with mechanized weapons as well as individual soldiers can train on their specific weapons. on 14 different ranges. We can accommodate 2 separate brigades at the same time," Milton detailed.
Those brigades could be Army National Guard from around the country as well as the "home team", the 3rd Infantry Division. The two posts, Fort Stewart and Hunter, serve as one of the Army's major power projection platforms to quickly send large numbers of troops anywhere in the world.
The both installations have grown geographically and in their role within the Army over the past few decades. Commanders would say it is not your grandfather's Camp Stewart.
Liberty County's Camp Stewart opened in 1940 to train anti-aircraft artillery. In the 1960's, President John F. Kennedy used the readiness of troops here to force a stand down of the Soviets in the Atlantic. Over the past 20 years, Fort Stewart's troops, whether the 24th Infantry or the 3rd Infantry, have helped free the Middle East of Saddam Hussein.
But Fort Stewart isn't resting on its laurels as it builds for the future.
"We've got a half billion dollars in construction going on North of 144 for the 4th Brigade Combat Team. When they get home from Iraq, they'll move into that facility and we've got several ranges under construction. This year we'll begin construction on a new elementary school as well," Colonel Milton described.
Fourth Brigade's complex will include housing for 1,400 single soldiers. Fort Stewart has also replaced, or is in the process of replacing, much of its family housing. It is all part of a focus on taking care of the soldiers and families. Milton noted they deal with constant long term deployments to protect America and the rest of the world. The quality of training and care helps the troops better handle being on the other side of the world. The 3rd Infantry's boss agreed.
"The fact that we can turn our attention completely to the task at hand. We can do that because of the incredible support inside the gates and outside the gates in the Coastal Empire," stated division commander Major General Tony Cucolo when he and his headquarters troops returned from Iraq.
"We all have a single mission, which is to support the world's greatest customer, that being these soldiers their families, local retirees, veterans and their survivors," Colonel Milton added.