Fort Jackson will receive another training battalion in October 2017, according to post commanders, a move that would boost the post’s local economic impact and increase its value to the Army in the face of expected budget cuts.
The battalion — consisting of about 500 additional soldiers during each 10-week basic training cycle — will bring with it 210 jobs from drill sergeants to support personnel. It will also swell the number of soldiers trained annually at the nation’s largest military training base to 46,000 in 2018 from 44,000 this year, according to Lt. Col. James Allen, the fort’s director of operations.
The new jobs and additional 2,000 soldiers per year is good news for Columbia’s economy. The families of those new soldiers will join 5,000 or so other family members who attend weekly, two-day family day activities and graduation ceremonies at the fort, filling nearby hotels and restaurants.
When the battalion is activated, “it will increase the economic impact of Fort Jackson immediately,” said retired Maj. Gen. George Goldsmith, chairman of the Columbia Chamber’s military affairs committee.
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Fort Jackson currently pumps about $2 billion a year into the Midlands economy, according a study commissioned by the S.C. Department of Commerce. About $40 million of that is direct spending by families attending graduations.
Besides the economic impact, the announcement of Fort Jackson’s new battalion — its 11th — is a signal from the Pentagon that Fort Jackson is ripe for expansion. That is good news in light of another expected round of base realignment and closures, called BRAC, in 2019.
“This is very, very significant,” Goldsmith said. “It shows Fort Jackson and the community has gotten the word out to the Army that we’re ready to grow. That story is getting out and it’s being heard.”
In addition, the Army has allocated $97 million to build a new “Star Base” barracks that will house the new battalion.
Planning for the new facility will begin this year, and the structure — which includes the battalion headquarters, a physical training facility and a dining facility — should be completed in 2021, Allen said. In the meantime, the new battalion will be housed in temporary facilities already available at the fort.
Only four Army bases in the country conduct basic training:
▪ Fort Jackson is by far the largest, training 54 percent of all new soldiers and 61 percent of all female soldiers. It also trains a host of other soldiers in advanced training, from chaplains to drill sergeants to polygraph operators.
▪ Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., trains soldiers who will become military police.
▪ Fort Sill, Okla., trains soldiers for artillery service.
▪ Fort Benning, Ga., trains infantrymen.
At Fort Jackson, soldiers receive 10 weeks of basic training. Most then move to other bases to receive advanced individual training for different jobs, be it truck drivers or helicopter mechanics. That basic training will likely be expanded to 11 weeks in October 2018, Allen said
At the other three bases, soldiers receive basic and advanced training together over 13 to 20 weeks, he said.
Fort Jackson boosters have long eyed the basic training components of the other three bases as the Army looks to reduce its excess facilities and save money. However, Allen said the 11th battalion will not be pulled from any of the other three bases.
“These people come from authorizations for personnel that (the Army’s Training and Doctrine Command) already has, not from moving battalions or companies from other locations due to BRAC,” he said.
Fort Jackson by the numbers
Annual economic impact in the Midlands
Soldiers to receive basic training in 2016
Percentage of all soldiers receiving basic training at Fort Jackson
Percentage of all female soldiers receiving basic training at Fort Jackson
Active duty military employees
Family members of new soldiers who visit each year for graduation ceremonies