The war in Afghanistan is the longest in United States history. As it finally comes to an end next year, the Midlands will absorb the majority of returning South Carolina troops, helping them to readjust to civilian life and join the local work force.
U.S. special forces landed in Afghanistan to find and capture or kill Osama bin Laden on Oct. 7, 2001, less than a month after the 9/11 terrorist attacks in the U.S. But with the invasion of Iraq in 2003, America’s attention was diverted away from the conflict in the rugged southwest Asian country even as the war raged on.
In 2014, however – 13 years after those first special forces landed – the U.S. is expected to end combat operations in Afghanistan and bring back the majority of the troops. That, coupled with the end of the war Iraq and heavy military budget cuts, means many service members will find themselves civilians once again.
That will have a big impact in the military-heavy Midlands. Consider:
• Fort Jackson is the retirement point for many soldiers, who return and do their last duty as drill sergeants training new soldiers.
• Shaw Air Force base is home to U.S. Army Central (formerly Third Army), which is planning the logistics of the withdrawal.
• The S.C. National Guard was heavily deployed in Afghanistan through the years, and still has 400 troops there.
• F-16 crews at Shaw and McEntire Joint National Guard Base also will be affected by the drawdown.
• Absorbing younger troops back into the work force will be a challenge. Many troops leaving the service suffer from PTSD, brain injuries and myriad other wounds. And regional leaders would love to convince older service member to retire here.