In early October of 2013, I steped off a plane into the sticky heat of Atlanta, GA. I hadn’t seen my husband, Kyle, in almost three months, and I was overjoyed with the thought of our distance coming to a close. We were so new to the military life and just knowing that we were finally in the same state was comforting enough. We dropped our bags off at the lodge just outside of Columbus and headed to his base.
As we traveled down the highway, I decided to take some pictures so I could look back on these days and remember how exciting and new it all was. The first picture I took was of a sign along the highway. It has become somewhat sentimental to me over the last few years. It marked the beginning of many adventures and the end of everything we knew.
Welcome to Fort Benning
When Kyle found out he would have BMT at Ft. Benning, GA, he was beyond excited. It’s where his father trained, and it meant a lot to him to share that memory. It’s also the first real base we ever experienced, so it’s a special place for us.
While getting to know the surrounding area is vital to making the most out of your Ft. Benning experience, it’s important to start with what is accessible on post. Ft. Benning covers about nine square miles, so most necessities can be found within the gates. For those who are just arriving, here are some of the top resources to help you get settled:
If you’re new to military life and not sure where to start, getting your military ID is definitely something to check off your list first. Fort Benning offers two different ID stations, both of which require an appointment. The first is located in Soldier’s Plaza and the other is over on Kelley Hill. You’ll need this in order to utilize almost everything on post.
Register your vehicles
Anyone who frequently visits Ft. Benning needs to register their vehicle within 30 days of arrival. Most incoming military personnel do this at the time of in-processing, but new vehicles can be registered on post at Building 217 on Edwards St. All temporary passes are issued by the Visitor Center, which is open 24-7.
Housing Services Office
Located within Soldier’s Plaza, the HSO is your primary source for questions, problems, complaints, and information regarding housing on and off post. They can also provide a list of rental options and can provide information about what the surrounding areas have to offer.
Commissary and Exchange
Both the Commissary and Exchange are located near the Martin Army Community Hospital off of Santa Fe and Marne Road. There’s another Commissary/mini-mall on Ingersoll Street as well. These serve as a one-stop shop for groceries, clothing, electronics, and other household goods.
Martin Army Community Hospital
The MACH is located right across from the Commissary and PX Mall on Ft. Benning. It’s one of the most comprehensive hospitals in the Army, and it’s home of the Army’s first Family Practice Residency Program. Appointments can be scheduled through their online portal, by phone, or in person.
Ft. Benning offers two clinics, one on Sand Hill and one in Soldier’s Plaza. They’re responsible for treating all soldiers assigned to the post, as well as Reserve members and contractors preparing for deployment. Dependents/non-military residents need to find a personal dentist, per their TRICARE Dental Plan.
Fort Benning offers three full-day care centers, which is for parents who need full-day care on a regular basis. This covers ages six weeks to five years. They also have hourly care, which is on a drop-in basis and requires a reservation. There’s also the Benning Preschool for ages three and four, which cover part of the day.
Ft. Benning also offers youth services through the Teen Center, where grades six through 12 can have access to game equipment, a lounge area, recreational activities, arts and crafts, and community service projects.
If you’re new to the area and in search of a job, you can find some great job-search resources through the Employment Readiness Program. The program provides resume assistance, referrals, and both on and off post job listings.
Once you’re settled and comfortable, you can start the more fun part of moving to a new area: Exploring. We didn’t have much time to explore all that Ft. Benning and Columbus had to offer, so we got started right away. Here are some of our favorite spots in the surrounding area of Columbus.
The Ft. Benning and Columbus area truly has something for every taste. Personally, we were in search of some true Southern-style eats, so we found a BBQ spot about 20 minutes from Ft. Benning’s gate. The BBQ House smokes all of their own meat with wood that they’ve chopped themselves. They have full slabs of ribs for $20, mac and cheese that’s unlike any other, and smoked chicken specials on certain weekdays. For those just visiting the area, they’re located near Ft. Mitchell/Uchee Creek Campground which has excellent camping and lodging amenities for military families (more on that later).
You can’t leave the South without having a true Southern breakfast, grits and all. CC’s is a hole-in-the-wall style diner, and they stay extremely busy at all hours. Where we’re from, busy equals a long wait for much needed food. But CC’s proved us wrong. They were quick, inexpensive, and so pleasant throughout our whole experience. If you’re looking for your first (or maybe 100th) sausage and gravy experience, this is the place. You can find them on the southside of Columbus, and you won’t regret it!
Jordan’s Girls Gourmet Dawgs
Kyle is obsessed with any good hot dog joint, so we had to give it a try. If you struggle making decisions, the menu alone might make your head spin. But I promise, it’s worth it! It starts with a simple hot dog and the toppings are almost endless. It’s a great stop for daring and picky eaters alike and very kid friendly. It’s close enough to Ft. Benning that you could easily stop in for a quick bite.
We have a Skipper’s in New England, so we just had to try out the “Southern version” of a local favorite. Skipper’s is known for their blue crab, but my all-time favorite has to be the low country boil. Shrimp, potatoes, and wonderful spices–can’t go wrong there! Skipper’s embodies true deep south seafood and would be a great option for catering as well.
Explore the Area
National Infantry Museum
One of my favorite memories was going to the National Infantry Museum. The museum opened in 2009 and has served as a gathering place for soldiers to show their families what Fort Benning and the Army is all about. One of their newest additions is their Global War on Terrorism Memorial, featuring those who have served and continue to serve since 9/11. You can also find the Fife & Drum Restaurant and Bar upstairs, making the museum an all-day visit.
Whether you’re just visiting the area or live locally, the Riverwalk is a beautiful place to unwind and get some exercise. We came here on our last day in the area, and since it was still warm, there were plenty of food trucks to grab a quick lunch.
Part of moving to or visiting a new area is learning all that it has to offer. The best way to do that? Take a tour! Ft. Benning is located close to the Georgia-Alabama border, so there are quite a few tours to choose from between Phenix City and Columbus. Vicinity Tours offers a few options, depending on weather and what you’re in the mood for. If you want to learn more about the history of the area but don’t feel like walking, you can choose once of their shuttle tours. If you’re looking to get some steps in but want to explore with your taste buds, you can try one of their walking tours during happy hour. There’s something for everyone, and it gives you the chance to meet other locals!
Where to Stay
Don’t let the term “campground” fool you. While they do have camping options, they also have beautiful cabins to choose. We stayed here (four of us) for Kyle’s graduation from BMT, and with their very generous military rate, it made our trip much more affordable. Uchee Creek is located about 25 to 30 minutes from Ft. Benning’s gate, and it provides a relaxing environment for any occasion. They’re nestled along the river, so you may see some gators as well!
IHG Army Hotels have various locations across the country, but Abrams Hall is located within the gates of Fort Benning. They have various rooms and amenities to choose, and they offer the perfect home-away-from-home for military travelers and their families. If you’re attending a ceremony or graduation, Abrams Hall offers the added convenience of being a short drive from all events.
Whether you’re new to the military world, on your third PCS, or a soldier yourself, moving to a new area can be extremely stressful and overwhelming. To relieve some of that stress and stay informed, you can visit the Fort Benning Homepage where you’ll find further information pertaining to your specific needs. You can also follow the US Army Fort Benning Facebook page for post updates, maps, and information on company graduations and ceremonies.
By Amanda Nowinski