Military: Things that go boom in the night (and day)

jwilkinson@thestate.com June 24, 2012 

  • Discover your Army base Fort Jackson has several facilities and activities open to the public. Here are three: • Palmetto Falls Water Park: Located at 3318 Marion Ave., water park features include a 10,000-square-foot pool, two water slides, a lazy river and more. It’s open to the public every Tuesday through Friday; season pass holders and military families can go Tuesday through Sunday. Cost, hours and other details: (803) 751-4056. • The post’s 14-mile section of the Palmetto Trail is open to bikers and hikers. It is a relatively flat, winding trail that borders the fort, mostly along Leesburg Road. • Watch for special events or activities, including the annual Fourth of July fireworks (one of the area’s best displays) and the Come See Your Army Tour, a chance for civilians to see how soldiers train, eat and live. Other details: jackson.army.mil/

If you are living or traveling east of Columbia near I-77, you’re likely to hear the occasional bugle call.

If you are living or traveling in Lower Richland, you’re probably used to the sound of jet fighters or helicopters.

Those aren’t just random noises coming from somewhere out of the piney woods. That’s the sound of freedom.

And even more important, that’s the sound of money rolling into the Midlands, courtesy of the U.S. military.

Fort Jackson in Columbia, McEntire Joint Nation Guard Base in Eastover and Shaw Air Force Base in Sumter put $7.1 billion a year in total economic impact into the Midlands economy. That’s $1 billion more than the estimated economic impact of Boeing on the Charleston area.

In addition, Fort Jackson, the nation’s largest U.S. Army training base, employs more than 12,000 people — military and civilian. In addition, the fort graduates about 50,000 soldiers every year, and the once-a-week graduations — awesome and open to the public — draw thousands of families to Columbia to eat, drink and cheer for junior.

Shaw hires another 5,300. It is home to the largest F-16 fighter wing in the U.S. Air Force as well as Third Army and Ninth Air Force, the planning and logistics arms for ground and air forces in the Middle East and Afghanistan.

McEntire adds another 900 employees to the local payroll, and that doesn’t include the Guard’s substantial presence at its headquarters on Bluff Road near Williams-Brice Stadium.

So the next time you hear the far-off bomb of a tank, or are startled by a low-flying helicopter in the middle of the night, remember: It’s one of the things that make the city great.

Jeff Wilkinson writes about business and the military for The State.

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