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Although U.S. Army Accessions Command will deactivate Aug. 12, Fort Knox’s commanding general is encouraged about the post’s future.
“Fort Knox doesn’t look tired,” Lt. Gen. Benjamin Freakley said during lunch with The News-Enterprise editorial board Wednesday at the Lt. Gen. Timothy J. Maude Complex.
With the inactivation of Accessions Command comes the retirement of Freakley, the first three-star general in the post’s history who has wowed audiences with his articulate and lively candor and pushed for greater relations between the post and the communities surrounding it. He said he is considering Aug. 19 as a likely retirement date.
Freakley plans to attend the inactivation ceremony but said he will leave shortly after and return to the Fort Benning, Ga., area. He once commanded the post and his father was stationed there when Freakley was a child. He said he heard his first bugle calls while in Georgia.
“Our family has big roots there,” he said.
With Freakley’s departure, duties of the commanding general will fall to one of the two-star commands on post, though his replacement has not been named. A brigadier general also will be assigned to assist Accessions Command in its transition, Freakley said. The command, he said, has until October 2012 to wind down.
The new commander, he continued, will serve as the face of the post, but Fort Knox has taken strides to introduce its different commands to local communities and integrate them into the fabric of the area.
The post also holds forums between commands as a means to build unity on post, Freakley said.
“We just have to be one family, in my view,” he said.
One concern stemming from deactivation of Accessions Command is the loss of up to 500 jobs. Freakley said that may occur in the short term, although he expects many employees will shift to other commands or fill vacant positions on post. He also said there is a need for many of the jobs in the command, such as Information Technology specialists, that will make the loss of 500 total positions unlikely.
In the long term, he said, the job loss should be “unnoticeable” as the post stabilizes after BRAC assignments are finalized in September. Payroll, he added, should remain the same, which is up $45 million from pre-BRAC levels.
Fort Knox also is actively looking to recruit new missions such as the Officer Candidate School at Fort Benning, Ga., a 14-week program that commissions graduates as U.S. Army officers. Freakley also said the post is interested in acquiring the Leadership Development and Assessment Course from Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Fort Lewis, Wash., a five-week summer course designed to evaluate and train ROTC cadets.
Freakley said the post already has the Leader’s Training Course, and the addition of the Officer Candidate School could be a major asset for Cadet Command. Moving the Leadership Development and Assessment Course, meanwhile, would cut down greatly on transportation expenses for the Army, he said.
While neither is a sure thing, he said he has no fear the post won’t be attractive to the Army because of its available capacity and land — a contrast from many posts that are bursting at the seams.
Freakley also said Fort Knox is ready made for training courses because it has so many training facilities and gyms in place.
“I want people to fight to come to Fort Knox,” he said.
He also wants to harvest a culture of interest and accessibility on post by inviting civilians to visit the post and its amenities. To encourage this camaraderie, Fort Knox is hosting a salute to the nation July 4 at Keyes Park, where Freakley said a carnival will be mobilized for the day. Everything will be free except food and local bands are scheduled to perform. The 113th Army Band also will perform a patriotic concert before a fireworks display.
Freakley said he considers Fort Knox “Kentucky’s own” and it should be treated as a post of the people.
He also reflected on the loss of the sixth Fort Knox soldier killed in Afghanistan as part of the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division.
Sgt. James W. Harvey II, 23, of Toms River, N.J., was killed Monday in Ghazni province as a result of direct enemy fire. Freakley said the death of Harvey is a tremendous loss for his family and the post.
Asked if local communities could do more to honor fallen soldiers, Freakley had a simple request.
“The families don’t need anything more, I think, than a little bit of awareness and compassion.”
Marty Finley can be reached at (270) 505-1762.