By DYLAN LOVAN
FORT KNOX, Ky. - Joe Uhlig arrived at Fort Knox in 1954 as a soldier and student ready for tank training.
Nearly six decades later, Uhlig joined hundreds of other veterans, commanders and former armor trainees Friday to watch the last remnants of Fort Knox's iconic armor school depart for Georgia.
"I cannot believe this day is here," said 76-year-old Uhlig, whose white hair was covered by a black 2nd Armored Division baseball cap.
During the morning event on a field once used for tank training maneuvers, flags for the armor school's two main training units, the 194th Armored Brigade and the 316th Cavalry Brigade, were rolled up and covered for their trip to Fort Benning, Ga.
The U.S. Armor Center was moved from its home of seven decades at Fort Knox to Fort Benning as part of a military reorganization announced by the Pentagon in 2005.
"Like many of you, I will miss seeing tank and Stryker crews out on the ranges," retired Sgt. Maj. of the Army Kenneth Preston said Friday. Preston, who trained tank students at Fort Knox in the 1980s and '90s, called the day bittersweet.
Armor has been synonymous with Fort Knox, and visitors are treated to the sight of retired Sherman tanks and other armored vehicles that dot the landscape in and around the post.
The tank's history at Fort Knox dates to 1940, when American military leaders noted the success of German tanks in western Europe. That year, the Army created the Armored Force at Fort Knox to centralize its mechanized force. The military post's massive size, varied landscapes and central location made it a prime spot for tank training and firing.
Retired Maj. Gen. Terry Tucker, former commanding general at Fort Knox, said the armor school here "changed the way of American warfare forever."
A ceremony more than a year ago on the same field symbolized the beginning of the move of more than 180 M1 tanks and about 1,000 other vehicles to Fort Benning. As part of the military reorganization, Fort Knox lost its Armor Center but became the new home of the Army's Human Resources Command and the 3rd Brigade Combat Team of the 1st Infantry Division.
Uhlig said he wished the armor school could stay in Kentucky, but the veteran was too thick-skinned to get sentimental on Friday. He said he is worried, however, that the departure of armor will change the area's identity.
"I just hope it doesn't hurt this community," he said.
The units that departed Fort Knox are set to unfurl their flags at a ceremony at Fort Benning on June 20.