Fort Knox has long been known for its heavy metals — gold bricks and armored tanks.
But the tank's 70-year connection to the Army post in the hills of central Kentucky ended Thursday as the Armor Center, the training school for generations of tank soldiers, began its move to Fort Benning in Georgia.
"It's a bittersweet day," said retired Lt. Col. Richard Ardisson, a former tank commander who attended the transfer of command ceremony. "You always hate to see change, especially change that's as symbolic as this is for old tankers and cavalrymen."
The ceremony symbolized the shift of authority over Fort Knox from the Armor Center to Accessions Command, making the base the Army's home for recruiting, training and human resources. The changes are part of a military reorganization announced by the Pentagon five years ago.
More than 180 M1 tanks and about 1,000 other vehicles will depart Fort Knox over the next year and a half.
The tank's history at Fort Knox stretches back to the eve of the country's entry into World War II, when military leaders noted the successes of German tank divisions that conquered France in 1940.
"The high profile, high visibility use of German armored formations in the destruction of France, it (sent) a shock wave through the U.S. Army," said Robert Cameron, the Army's Armor Branch historian.
Cameron said at the time, Knox had already become the Army's home for mechanized cavalry.
The post's vast acreage, varied landscapes and its road and rail access made it a perfect spot for tank training and firing, Cameron said.
Tank training will merge with Fort Benning's infantry school to create what the military calls the Maneuver Center of Excellence.
Under the Army reorganization announced in 2005, the Human Resources Command and the 3,400 members of the 3rd Brigade, 1st Infantry Division were moved to Fort Knox.
The Army will begin taking tanks, Humvees, Bradleys and other vehicles out of Fort Knox once facilities and infrastructure changes are finished at Fort Benning, said Michael Gillette, who is coordinating the Armor Center's move.
Some of the post's armor legacy will stay behind, namely a collection dedicated to Gen. George S. Patton at Fort Knox's Patton Museum. And several tanks and other armored vehicles used as monuments around the post will also stay.
The gold vault, which has about 4,600 tons of gold bullion, will also remain.
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