- The Washington Times - Monday, September 20, 2004

FORT JACKSON, S.C. - Soldiers in basic training here don’t get Saturday afternoons off any more — wars in Iraq and Afghanistan changed that.

Their nine-week introduction to Army life now means lessons on roadside bombs, grenade launchers and anti-tank weapons, says the commander of the Army’s largest training installation.

“We owe it to our soldiers. They have got to be ready to survive, to fight and to win,” says Brig. Gen. Abraham Turner, who became Fort Jackson’s first black commander when he took over eight months ago.

Gen. Turner says he is pleased with the Army’s efforts to revamp how soldiers learn to fight, given that many will be heading to units in which they will face the threats that accompany the global war on terror.

“The soldiers are getting it. They know these may be life-dependent skills,” Gen. Turner, 49, said. “We are doing a lot better than we have in the past. … We have made a giant leap forward.”

Gen. Turner, who came to Fort Jackson after serving as the operations officer for U.S. and allied land forces operating out of Qatar in the Persian Gulf, said he is ensuring that the new soldiers get daily briefings on what is happening worldwide, particularly in battle zones such as Iraq and Afghanistan.

“They are more aware of what is going on in theater than ever before,” Gen. Turner said.

Making more time for “battle drills” such as manning checkpoints and firing advanced weapons means Saturdays now involve all-day training sessions. Afternoons that had been devoted to repeating lessons from earlier in the day now are spent in the field. “Retraining? That’s gone. We have to do it right the first time,” said Gen. Turner, a 6-foot-6-inch South Carolina native.

About 50,000 soldiers from basic and advanced training courses graduate annually from Fort Jackson. The trainees of today “grew up in the middle of 9/11,” Gen. Turner said.

“They are a generation that has the same experiences as those of Pearl Harbor, of our nation being under attack,” he said. “They understand the ideals of freedom and justice. These aren’t just words.”

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