Training area for troops is nearing

By early next year, troops from Fort Gordon could begin using thousands of acres at Savannah River Site for training.

Army officials have been waiting for years to use the more than 100,000 acres of dormant federal land for troop maneuvers and non-live-fire training. Pending the outcome of an environmental study, this could soon become a reality.

Col. John Holwick, Fort Gordon's garrison commander, said the training will be limited mainly to "light maneuvers," meaning that tanks, other troop carriers and other heavy equipment won't be allowed.

"You won't see tanks out there churning up the grass, but you may see trucks, helicopters," Col. Holwick said.

James R. Giusti, a spokesman for SRS, wrote in an e-mail Wednesday that the site is waiting for the Army to develop an interagency agreement for the use of the land before it moves ahead.

"Once that is complete and is provided to DOE (Department of Energy) at SRS, we will develop and issue an environmental assessment in the April-May 2009 time frame," Mr. Giusti said.

The agreement would allow the Army, Navy and Air Force to conduct training operations on the 310-square-mile area -- something Col. Holwick said is important because it gives soldiers a new place to test their abilities.

"A unit trained on Fort Gordon that's been here for 40 years pretty much knows every square inch," he said. "So it puts them in a new place."

Though Fort Gordon would be in charge of the new area, it wouldn't necessarily be the only installation training there. Units from Fort Benning, Ga.; Fort Bragg, N.C.; Fort Stewart, Ga.; and those from the Air Force and Navy could use the area as well.

"When you consider that Fort Gordon itself is 56,000 acres, it's a significant improvement in our training capacity," Col. Holwick said. "If we can use it for the readiness of the Army and without impacting the environment, it's a good thing."

Reach Adam Folk at (706) 823-3339 or adam.folk@augustachronicle.com.