Editor’s note: Fort Jackson is in the middle of a yearlong Centennial celebration that will culminate in June. For this Veterans Day weekend, The State is providing special coverage of the fort and its impact on the Midlands.
Supporters leading the charge to build a 100th anniversary celebration park at Fort Jackson say they are lining up funding and in-kind service commitments with hopes for a dedication in June.
The Gateway to the Army Association projects it will need $3 million or more to complete the 3-acre Fort Jackson Centennial Park, to be built at the site previously occupied by the old Post Headquarters.
The park, announced this summer, has received about $50,000 in donations so far, association officials said, with promises of another $150,000 of in-kind donations. Supporters are preparing to ratchet up solicitations from local city and county governments, large corporations across the state and the public. The city of Columbia has already agreed to contribute $300,000.
Founded in 1917, when the U.S. was gearing up for World War I, Fort Jackson has become the Army’s prime production center for basic training, turning out 50 percent of Army basic trainees along with 60 percent of the women who enter the Army annually.
“What the community has done so far shows what a great community this is,” said Bryan Hilferty, a U.S. Army Central Command retired colonel and Gateway association board member. When completed, the park will stand as a permanent testament of the community’s support for the base, a key component in the consideration of base closures, Hilferty noted.
Local governments are among the first major fundraising targets for the park project, base officials said.
Association members plan to approach Richland and Lexington counties in their fundraising efforts, the town of Lexington, Forest Acres, Kershaw County and other local entities, according to retired Command Sgt. Maj. Marty Wells, who came up with the idea for a centennial park at the Fort.
“We just felt that Columbia leading the way (as a public donor) would serve as a signal to the rest of the legislative bodies,” said Wells, who spearheads the park project.
Corporate sponsors will also be key to the park’s success, Hilferty said. “We’re still asking large corporations such Boeing and BMW (for contributions), and military-related ones like Lockheed-Martin to help donate to this great project,” he said.
More corporate sponsors are coming on board, including iHeartRadio, which has given the project more than $1 million in free publicity, Hilferty said, including seven on-air spots a day on each of its six local-area broadcast stations over a six-month period, and The State newspaper.
Other corporate sponsors include USAA, and Wells Fargo and Allsouth banks, he said.
The public can contribute by purchasing pavers, being sold for $200 each, Hilferty said, or by making donations directly at gatewaytothearmy.org. Contributions can be mailed to Gateway to the Army Association, 4611 Hardscrabble Road, Suite 172, Columbia, S.C. 29229.
The association has also been working with the post to gain more convenient public access to the park once it is completed, Wells said.
The site is in the early preparation stages for construction of the park, Hilferty said. Park architect Ron Clamp who designed the 9/11 memorial in Columbia, has visited the site with potential contractors, many of whom are also expected to provide work on an in-kind, or pro bono basis, or at the very least, at reduced rates, Hilferty said.
The park will be built in three phases, which will help facilitate fundraising, Fort officials said. The park will include a Walkway of Heroes, an amphitheater overlooking a 20-foot granite Soldier’s Statue of male and female drill sergeants and gazebos, among other features.
The Fort Jackson centennial year culminates next year with the Army Ball on June 10. Association officials are pushing for a park dedication of the first phase on June 3, Wells said, but completion of the park will depend upon fundraising.
Roddie Burris: 803-771-8398