Friday, June 17, 2011

17 JUN 11: At Ease?

The Fort Benning Conference Center hosted a job fair for soldiers Thursday. It was sponsored by the website Civilian Jobs, but WLTZ showed plenty of soldiers in uniform. They all may have been thinking the same way - dress like a soldier, and employers will have sympathy toward you.

This summer is certainly a season of change at Fort Benning - and not simply because of base realignment. The post police chief announced this week drivers no longer need a sticker or pass to enter. After all, it's easier to "Follow Me" when you don't have to stop somewhere to fill out forms first.

For decades, security at military installations nationwide required visitors to check in at entry gates. Fort Benning required outsiders to place a card on their dashboards - as if the lack of a buzz cut wasn't a giveaway already.

But now in an Army test, Fort Benning is doing away with car decals for soldiers and pass cards for visitors. A spokesperson explained the decals could make soldiers a target of terrorists. So privates need to blend in more with the general public -- even if the generals appear in public with all their stars.

This new policy raises an obvious question: how far should soldiers go to avoid standing out from the crowd? Go to Peachtree Mall on the right weekday, and you'll see dozens of Fort Benning soldiers in khaki outfits. Should they wear casual clothes on shopping trips in Columbus - even if it makes the military discounts more difficult to claim?

Some Columbus residents actually might feel safer to have Fort Benning soldiers around, wearing G.I. garb. They outnumber those 100 new police officers, anyway....

And it's not like Fort Benning is blending everything into the Columbus landscape. The big rail shipment of military vehicles from Fort Knox arrived this week, and passed through the downtown area as it did. It was almost like Benning was sending a message to all the remaining skeptics of base realignment.

Fort Benning Police Chief Kevin Clarke notes post security isn't being relaxed completely. The new rules require visitors to go through a special entry lane, with their license plates recorded on digital cameras. I'll assume Kodak won a nice military contract, for suggesting this approach.

Visitors to Fort Benning also will be screened with a hand-held scanning device. The police chief says it will check a "variety of databases." People who have posted photos of themselves on Facebook wearing tie-dye shirts could be suspected members of SOA Watch.

The Fort Benning Commandant doesn't seem concerned about these changes in security rules. General Robert Brown invited the general public earlier this year to come onto post, and play at the Follow Me golf course. But please don't expect the "bunkers" to match what soldiers experience in basic training.

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BIG PREDICTION UPDATE: Well, well! My Miss Georgia pick may not be so far-fetched after all. Stephanie Burkholder won a Wednesday night preliminary competition for evening wear -- then won Thursday night's swimsuit prize. As long as Miss Rome doesn't wear a rebel flag to give away her university, she might turn out all right.

Let's get caught up on other news you may have missed over the last couple of days....

+ The Muscogee County Marshal and Sheriff opened a new firing range for officers on Manor Road. I'm not sure this event was timed very well. If the two departments can combine to have a single firing range, why can't Columbus Council merge them in everything else?

(The new firing range apparently is located close to Muscogee Manor. That's the way to keep residents awake during afternoon card games.)

+ Phenix Lumber Company responded to a scheduled federal fine of $1.9 million for safety violations. A statement claimed the business has made a "dramatic improvement" - while an employee told WRBL a piece of machinery fell and injured his leg this week. So if safety concerns are dropping, that could mean two different things.

+ RC Cola reestablished its international headquarters in Columbus, at a building on Tenth Avenue. There's clearly work to do to restore this brand's popularity. RC Cola is practically impossible to find at local restaurants - and don't even bother asking for a Moon Pie to go with it.

+ WXTX reported the poisoned oak trees at Toomer's Corner in Auburn are soaked in water every day. We mention this for the benefit of all construction crews working outside in the heat right now.

+ The U.S. Census Bureau reported the number of Korean residents in Lee County has quadrupled in the last ten years. They should be easy to spot - look for the two Kias in the driveway.

+ Eleven national governments filed legal briefs opposing Georgia's new immigration rules. For some strange reason, all the countries are Latin American. Where's the complaint from Canada -- especially after that hockey unrest in Vancouver?

+ Alabama State Senator Scott Beason was heard on a wiretap at the gambling corruption trial, saying visitors to Greenetrack in Eutaw are "aborigines." I knew Mississippi casinos wanted from Columbus - but I never realized Alabama's electronic bingo halls had a following in Australia.

+ Instant Message to all single guys: The Miss Georgia pageant final round is Saturday night. The Miss U.S.A. pageant is on TV Sunday night. We might not feel guilt pangs about Father's Day weekend after all.

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The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author -- not necessarily those of anyone else in Columbus living or dead, and perhaps not even you.

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