An Army assessment study of several base reduction scenarios, which included Fort Jackson, was completed in June. Fort Jackson commanding officer Major General Bradley Becker said the assessment was based on a worst case scenario of reducing the current permanent workforce personnel 0f 5,735 – including 2,400 civilian employees — by 3,100. Becker said such a cut would severely reduce the number of soldiers completing basic training at the base, and that in turn would cut the number of visitors to the installation.
“So instead of having 5,000 visitors a week to Columbia which we get now, based on our graduation of 45,000 soldiers a year, we would be reduced to hundreds of visitors per week,” he said.
Becker said a major reduction in visitors who come to the base for basic combat training graduations would put a huge dent in the Midlands-area economy.
“Those visitors who come every single week stay downtown, eat in the restaurants, and usually stay two days,” he said. “That is a huge impact. The Army in their assessment acknowledged that there were about 5,000 visitors per week because of basic combat training graduation, but they did not account for that economic impact.”
Becker said Fort Jackson amounts to about a $2.6 billion overall economic impact for the Midlands area.
Becker pointed to the public feedback portion of the Army’s assessment period, which ends August 15. He added that time is of the essence in getting the Midlands community energized to let the Army know how much Fort Jackson means to the community. Becker said he believes the Army looks carefully at the areas that have greatest level of resistance to reduction when they make their on-site visits.
The impending reductions could turn out to be an opportunity for Fort Jackson, as the Army could also decide to relocate basic combat training operations currently at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri; Fort Sill, Oklahoma; and Fort Benning, Georgia. Fort Jackson trains 54 percent of the soldiers that enter the Army through basic combat training and Becker said the installation is poised for expansion from a logistic and economic standpoint.
“We’ve got nine battalions now and by 2018, based on current construction projects, we’ll have the capacity for 11 battalions,” he said. “So we can actually increase capacity based on dollars that are already committed over the next several years. By next year we’ll have capacity for 10 battalions.”
Retired Major General George Goldsmith, who handles military affairs with the Columbia Chamber of Commerce, said Fort Jackson shares a rich heritage with the Midlands. Area businessmen donated 1,200 acres in 1917 to the then-Department of War to train soldiers at what began as Camp Jackson.
“The stipulation was that it be used as a training base. So in 1917 they began training soldiers to go into World War I,” he said. “They have trained soldiers in every war since then.”
Goldsmith said local supporters of Fort Jackson have launched a letter-writing campaign to express their support for the installation, with Governor Nikki Haley and the state’s congressional delegation also involved. A petition supporting the installation also appears on the state Department of Commerce website.