Fort Sherman, a 23,100-acre facility on Panama's Atlantic side, was on the west bank of the Canal across from Cristobal/Colon. Fort Sherman included an airstrip, training facilities, 67 homes, dormitories for 300 people, and recreational areas. Over half of Fort Sherman's land area is covered by tropical forest.
Much of this forest was used by the Jungle Operations Training Center (JOTC), a facility run by U.S. Army South (USARSO) that trained U.S. and Latin American personnel in jungle warfare and survival techniques. Founded in 1951, the JOTC trained about 9,000 U.S. and Latin American soldiers each year in jungle survival techniques, land navigation, waterborne operations, and combat tactics. Fort Sherman was handed over to Panama in late 1999. The last rotation through the JOTC took place in March 1999, and there were no plans to replace the facility. Subsequent U.S. jungle training occured through small unit exchange programs with other countries.
For more than 40 years, the cadre at Fort Sherman's jungle school trained soldiers from the United States and around the world to fight and survive in the jungle. In a relatively compact training area, the JOTC at Fort Sherman provided virtually a full range of jungle terrain and vegetation -- tall grass lands, mountains, swamps, blue and brown water, single and double canopy jungle. With its signature three-week Jungle Warfare Course, JOTC trained 11 U.S. Army light infantry, Ranger and Marine infantry battalions, more than 7,000 soldiers, per year. Soldiers were taught the basics of jungle survival, including waterborne training, in the first week, then advance to squad, platoon, company and battalion-size exercises over the next two weeks. In addition, more than 1,000 soldiers a year were taught the basics of jungle warfare to serve as the opposing forces for the rotational battalions.
The JOTC also taught a 10-day AirCrew Survival Course, open to all branches of service, and a four-week Engineer Jungle Warfare Course. Foreign students came to the training center for a number of training programs, giving JOTC an international reach. For U.S. forces, JOTC provided a training area that cannot be replicated by the military's other large training centers. Soldiers were drilled on the basics of moving and shooting, requiring them to rely on their core battle drills and basic skills.
Concurrent with the Canal construction, giant artillery guns were built and manned, and Army posts such as Fort Sherman on the Atlantic and Fort Amador on the Pacific side of the isthmus, were planned and constructed between 1911 and 1912. Construction of the post under the direction of the Department of Engineer began in January 1912 at Toro Point the northern tip of land, during construction of the Panama Canal as a phase of the original 1910 fortification plan for that waterway. Fort Sherman was named by War Department General Order No. 153 dated November 24, 1911, in honor of General William Tecumseh Sherman. General Sherman, a renowned U.S. Civil War commander, succeeded General U.S. Grant as Commander-in-Chief of the United States Army. General Sherman died on February 14, 189I.
Panama's General Plan for the re-conversion of US Military bases in Panama underscores the necessity of preserving Sherman's biodiversity and recommends environmentally sensitive activities, such as ecological and historical tourism. The general Plan clearly emphasises the importance of preserving the extensive coral reefs along the Caribbean coast near Sherman. According to the study, areas already developed and with existing infrastructure could be used as tourist and community centres. These areas have significant potential for hotel and residential community development.
Sherman's existing infrastructure includes well-developed roads, including a road which connects the fort with Panama City on the other side of the Isthmus. Sherman also contains within its boundaries a variety of port facilities as well as an airstrip large enough for low-altitude aircraft. Drainage and potable water systems have been well maintained, as well as the sewage, telecommunications and electrical power system.
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