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 more than $4 billion a year in total economic impact into the Midlands economy. That’s billion with a capital “B.”
In addition, Fort Jackson, the nation’s largest U.S. Army training base, employs nearly 8,000 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 9,600. 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 1,750 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 boom 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.
Read more: Discover your Army base
Fort Jackson has several facilities and activities open to the public. A sampling:
Graduations: The post graduates about 50,000 new soldiers each year and the ceremonies, held nearly every Thursday, are open to the public. The ceremony at Hilton Field features a review, awards, reciting the soldiers creed, the military oath, singing the Army song and lots of proud family members.
Museums: There are several, all free. Among them: U.S. Army Basic Combat Training Museum (803-751-7419); U.S. Army Chaplains Museum (803-751-8079); U.S. Army Adjutant General’s Museum (803-751-1747). Contact each for locations and hours.
Palmetto Falls Water Park: Located at 3318 Marion Ave., 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.
Palmetto Trail: 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.
Special events: Watch for special activities, including the annual Fourth of July fireworks (one of the area’s best) and the Come See Your Army Tour, a chance for civilians to see how soldiers train, eat and live.
Other details: www.jackson.army.mil/