Fort Benning’s next commander shadows Charlotte officials

Colonel Andrew Hilmes will assume command of Fort Benning Garrison in Georgia in July.
Colonel Andrew Hilmes will assume command of Fort Benning Garrison in Georgia in July. jwester@charlotteobserver.com

During his 20 years in the U.S. Army, Colonel Andrew Hilmes has led soldiers and tanks in combat in Bosnia and Iraq.

Managing a community the size of a small city, as he will do when he takes command of Fort Benning Garrison in Georgia next month, might sound calm in comparison, but it’s a big transition for Hilmes.

“I was a bit shocked when I found out I was going to be a garrison commander,” he said. “It’s just much different from what I had envisioned.”

To prepare for the demands of his new job, Hilmes is shadowing City Manager Ron Carlee and other city employees this week.

He’s here because Charlotte and five other cities are participating in a pilot program between the U.S. Army’s Installation Management Command and the International City/County Management Association, designed to help garrison commanders get ready to manage a budget, take care of municipal concerns and interact with neighboring civilian communities.

Fort Benning’s population of 25,000 soldiers and family members can swell to more than 100,000 during peak training months. Hilmes will sit on the garrison’s school board, which runs six elementary schools and one middle school, and work with the base’s police and fire departments. He’s also responsible for several thousand acres of training ground, where Army Rangers and other programs train.

He and his family have lived at Fort Benning for the past five years, so he has first-hand familiarity with residents’ needs, from deployment facilities and live-fire ranges to solid waste collection and flooded basements in base housing.

On his first day in Charlotte, Hilmes met with representatives from the fire department and the budget office as well as Carlee.

Wester: 704-358-5169