Just in time for Veterans Day, Fort Jackson opened up its training program to some community leaders this week, giving a rare public look into how more than 54,000 troops are trained on the post each year.
The fort hosted about 100 guests Tuesday night, as officers explained the 10-week basic training of new Army recruits.
Post Commander Maj. Gen. James Milano wanted to help teach the public about what happens on a daily basis at the sprawling fort outside Columbia. About two or three times per year, special guests are invited to visit and learn more.
Several of the fort’s commanders briefed the visitors Tuesday night on the typical soldier’s experience– a new enlistee goes through 10 weeks of basic training at Ft. Jackson before moving on to advanced training, usually at another installation.
Part of the tour includes a visit to the field, where three companies of troops were going through live-fire training. They had to crawl on their arms and stomachs (knees not allowed) across 350 yards, with barbed wire blocking their path and machine guns bullets flying over their heads.
“Eight weeks ago, these volunteers were civilians,” Lt. Colonel J.C. Glick of the 193rd Infantry Brigade said as the bus traveled to the range, “They didn’t know how to march, how to wear the uniform, they didn’t know anything. They were just U.S. citizens who volunteered to serve our country. Tonight, you’re going to see them transforming into soldiers.”
The entire drill took about 20 minutes. The soldiers slowly made their way across the field on their bellies, freezing whenever a flare lit up the area. The visitors watched through night vision scopes behind the machine gun towers, ear plugs safely in. By the end of the crawl, many of the troops were exhausted, but still trudged on as drill sergeants occasionally yelled “Get off your knees!”
Many in the crowd were veterans, themselves. Bill Heil is a military liaison with the American Legion Post 195 in Kershaw County. He said he always tries to sign up whenever Fort Jackson does a public tour.
“It’s amazing how these kids really can do that,” he said. “I’m just amazed every time I come out here, really.”
Heil said he went through Fort Jackson himself in 1968. “Back then it was mud,” he recalled. “One time, we went out and it was hot and dry and the ground was dust. So I said, “Drill sergeant, there’s no mud here, it’s going to be a breeze.’ And he said, “well, give me about 15 minutes,’ then he called in three fire trucks. He shot water for about half an hour.”
However, Heil admitted he avoided taking part in the drill because he had colic. Instead, the sergeant had him keep track of the scores for the other recruits.
The post has 3,500 active military members and conducts basic training for 36,000 recruits each year– half of the new troops nationwide. An additional 8,000 receive advanced training, while 10,000 more attend courses at the Soldier Support Institute Chaplaincy Center, Drill Sergeant School, and the National Center for Credibility Assessment. The Army estimates the fort has a $2.6 billion impact on the local economy.