Pandemic May Force Army to Close Pathfinder School, Relocate Others

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Soldiers take part in pathfinder training at the Liberty Pickup Zone at Fort Benning.
Soldiers take part in pathfinder training at the Liberty Pickup Zone at Fort Benning, March 21, 2019. (U.S. Army/Patrick Albright))

The U.S. Army may close or drastically alter its Pathfinder School at Fort Benning, Georgia, as part of a sweeping review of all service schools operating in the reality of the stubborn COVID-19 pandemic.

Army Times reported that the service is considering shuttering the historic, three-week course that was created during World War II to train special teams of paratroopers how to guide large airborne formations onto drop zones behind enemy lines.

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Army Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) confirmed that the Pathfinder course -- which also trains soldiers how to conduct sling-load helicopter operations -- is part of the review being conducted by the service's Combined Arms Center, or CAC.

TRADOC spokesman Col. Rich McNorton told Military.com that no decision had been made as to "which ones are we going to turn off, convert to distance [learning] or in some cases go to a mobile training teams. ... Pathfinder School is in there with all of those courses."

The CAC has been conducting an analysis of all TRADOC schools for about four months to see whether they are meeting the needs of combat commanders, he added.

Shrinking defense budgets have forced the Army to look for ways to save money by possibly reducing travel needed for some training courses.

"COVID-19 accelerated that process because, all of the sudden, now we've got these restrictions," McNorton said. "Some courses that we have are a week long and, in order to sustain that, we have to quarantine them for two weeks and then they start it. And it doesn't make sense to do that."

McNorton said what will likely happen is that the Army will prioritize which courses will remain the same and which ones will convert to mobile training teams or distance learning.

Another option may be to relocate a course, such as the Master Gunners courses at Fort Benning designed to provide advanced training to gunners on M1 tanks and Bradley fighting vehicles.

Part of TRADOC Commander Gen. Paul Funk II's guidance is "looking at and saying, 'Hey does it make sense for everybody to go to Fort Benning for this particular course? How about we push it out to Fort Hood where the tankers are and not bring them in?'" McNorton said.

He said he isn't sure when the review will be complete, but any recommendation to close an Army school will have to be approved by the service's senior leadership.

"This stuff gets briefed up to senior leaders, and the senior leaders can say, 'Bring that one back. We are not getting rid of it,'" McNorton said.

-- Matthew Cox can be reached at matthew.cox@military.com.

Related: Army Resumes Large-Scale Combat Training Despite Nationwide Surge in Virus Cases

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