More than 30 businesses, organizations, sporting events and festivals are partnering with Fort Jackson for its centennial celebration, beginning with the 241st Army Birthday Ball June 18 at the Columbia Metropolitan Convention Center.
When it turns 100 on June 2, 2017, Fort Jackson — which began as a World War I training base — will have trained an estimated 5 million soldiers. Today it is the nation’s largest basic training facility.
To celebrate the milestone, the Army and community are planning a year-long series of events and commemorations, both on post and off, ranging from a June 18 Lexington County Blowfish game to the nationally televised Sept. 3 Bojangles Southern 500 NASCAR race in Darlington, to Columbia’s restaurant week in January.
“You only turn 100 once,” Fort Jackson spokesman Chris Fletcher said during a media tour of the fort to kick off the events. “We wanted to show the support the Midlands has for Fort Jackson and the support Fort Jackson gives to the community.”
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In addition to events outside the gates, the fort will have a series of events on its birthday week June 2, 2017, to June 10, 2017, to mark the occasion. A golf tournament, post run, fireworks and other events are planned.
The Old Guard Fife and Drum Corps is scheduled to perform, and Gov. Nikki Haley and Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Milley have been invited to speak if their schedules permit.
Included in the celebration will be the dedication ceremony for the first phase of Centennial Park, which is being built on the site of the old Post Headquarters, recently razed. The park is adjacent to the Basic Combat Training Museum, and is planned as a focal point for soldiers’ families to gather on Wednesdays and Thursdays during the fort’s weekly graduation ceremonies.
The approximately $1 million budget for the park is being raised privately in the community by a foundation called Gateway to the Army.
The fort also plans to release a 100th anniversary book on the general history of Fort Jackson, and a second book on the social history of the fort. Also, the fort is working with the newspaper on a 100-year anniversary book.
The Basic Combat Training Museum will open a world World War I trench display to commemorate Camp Jackson, as it was called during World War I, and merchandise featuring the centennial logo will be available. Billboards and signs will be displayed on post and through the city and Midlands acknowledging the celebration.
But the events, dedications and other commemorations are more than just a party. They show the close link between Columbia, the Midlands and Fort Jackson, said the fort’s deputy commander, Col. Mark Shade.
The support of Columbia for the fort creates a first impression of the Army for the families of 45,000 or so soldiers who graduate from basic training here each year, and bolsters support among Army brass for Fort Jackson in the face of budget cuts and possible base closures and realignments.
“The reputation of Columbia is interwoven with the reputation of Fort Jackson and the Army,” said Shade. “So (support for the military in) Columbia has a huge impact on the opinions those families and extended families have of the Army. Columbia has a phenomenal reputation (for its support of the military), probably the best in the Army. That sends a huge message to Army leadership.”
Fort Jackson turns 100
Among the events that will be tied to Fort Jackson Centennial over the next year are:
- Historic Camden Revolutionary War Days
- Brew at the Zoo, Columbia
- Spoleto, Charleston
- Bojangles Southern 500, Darlington
- Famously Hot New Year, Columbia
- St. Patrick’s Day Parade, Columbia