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.