The commander of the Maneuver Center of Excellence at Fort Benning said he decided to close this year's conference to media so infantry and armor leaders could freely discuss potential threats from Russia.
Officials at the base in Georgia have traditionally allowed press coverage at its annual maneuver conference. For years, they let reporters attend the installation's annual infantry conferences, which in 2011 were consolidated into the maneuver conference when the Armor Center relocated to Benning.
But that practice changed at this year's conference. The event began Wednesday with the theme, "Future Maneuver: Facing the Russian Threat."
Maj. Gen. Eric J. Wesley had this to say about his decision close the conference during a phone discussion with reporters from Military.com and the Ledger-Enquirer, a local newspaper in Columbus, Georgia:
"There is not any intent to shut you out, but what it does reflect is sometimes any organization or institution needs to close its doors, roll up their sleeves and wrestle with some hard issues," he told reporters.
"And what I don't want to do as we postulate on potential options to reconcile any of our gaps -- what I don't want to do is get ahead of my bosses, get ahead of the chief of staff of the Army, get ahead of the president," Wesley added.
"We want to make sure there is free-flowing discussion, so that ideas can come on the table, but if I am checking what I am saying because I don't want to get out ahead of somebody, then we are not truly pursuing ideas as we should," he said.
Wesley added that the decision "is partly due to the topic. We don't choose this topic every year."
In addition to Russia, the conference will focus on other near peers such as China, North Korea and Iran.
"These near peers have watched us for a number of years, and they have set about attempting to reconcile some of their shortfalls," Wesley said. "So we are taking this conference to take a look at where our near peers are at and where they have made gains, so that we can then turn and reconcile any gaps or shortfalls that we may have."
-- Matthew Cox can be reached at email@example.com.