Bill Edwards has seen many changes take place on Fort Bragg’s landscape.
Of course, that’s understandable, especially after 44 years of civil service, 33 of which were here a Fort Bragg.
Edwards, who serves as the installation range officer, is responsible for transforming Fort Bragg’s ranges and training facilities from the post-cold war facilities of the 1980s to the state-of-the-art facilities that grace the post today. Now, he admits, is as good a time as any to step away from the job he has held since 2000.
Edwards came to Fort Bragg in 1982, after working as an air traffic controller in the Air Force. He was one of the first controllers to be hired at range control after an air traffic control facility was established. According to Edwards, it was one of the Army’s first air traffic control facilities that came under the range control umbrella.
“From 1983 until 2000, I held various air traffic control positions at range control, from shift supervisor to air traffic and air space manager, to ATC facilities chief,” Edwards explained.
In 1999, the position of range control officer came vacant, which allowed Edwards to apply for the position.
“I thought, ‘Okay, after 26 years of air traffic control, this might be a good time to make a move,’” he said. “So I applied for the range officer position and fortunately, was selected for it and that allowed me to get out of that air traffic control stress. Little did I know that there is a lot of stress as a range officer.”
As range control officer, Edward says he focuses more on budgets which is different from the ATC job, which just dealt with aircraft.
“It’s been a great job. The range officer, for a place like Fort Bragg, is probably one of, if not the best, jobs in the Department of Defense,” Edwards said. “It’s so rewarding in more ways than one. When we build a new range and know that it will help and train our Soldiers, it is really gratifying.
“Then we look and see them come back from war for the last 10 years or so and think, ‘we had a little bit to do with that.’”
Edwards said an average day for him would include arriving at his job at 6:30 a.m. and leaving at 5 p.m. or later on some days. He said he manages more than 100 ranges and training facilities which sit on 140,000 acres of training land. He also manages 76 employees, who help carry out the daily operations at the range control facility.
Some of range control’s responsibilities include managing range facilities (range control), scheduling which units will use specific ranges and training areas, and maintenance and repairs.
“We even build a few ranges occasionally. We have a maintenance section, an operations section and the firing section, which manages all of the live-fire ranges on the installation. They assist the units as they’re training on the ranges as far target placement and writing scenarios for various units. There’s also a control section, who are the guys who sit on the radio and answer all the calls as units open and close ranges,” explained Edwards.
In 33 years, Edwards has seen a lot of changes in he Fort Bragg landscape.
“When I first started in 1982, range control was in a four-room, wooden building, which sat almost in the middle of kudzu. In 1986, we moved out of that building and into the building that we are currently in. That was a major change for range control,” Edwards said.
He pointed out that the ranges across Fort Bragg have changed tremendously.
“We no longer have the little pasty targets, everything is digital, automated and computer-run. Some would probably remember going out on the qualification ranges and keeping their own scores. Now, each individual is scored by computer. They receive a printout as they leave the range, which tells them how they scored,” he said.
Edwards added that weapon systems have also changed, as technology has become more advanced.
“Not so much for small arms, but now we’re qualifying snipers. We’ve got sniper weapons that can really reach out. In fact, a lot of them we can’t even shoot on Fort Bragg because the range is not large enough. Also, the air space is very complex ... our control room runs almost 100,000 aircraft per year,” said Edwards, who was named the Army’s top range control officer in 2010.
He added that last year alone, Fort Bragg Range Control ran about 12,000 live-fire operations and trained nearly five million servicemembers, including Marines, who conduct artillery training here as well as various Air Force personnel. According to Edwards, those numbers place the post near the top in Army operations.
In reflection, Edwards said the one thing he will miss most about Fort Bragg is — Fort Bragg.
“After all these years of driving in each morning, it might be a little tough,” he said. “But we’ll leave it in good hands. Nobody is indispensable.”