When the Army delayed money last year for the renovation of 44-year-old barracks at its training center at Columbia’s Fort Jackson, housing conditions for recruits deteriorated.
Now, U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-Seneca, and Rep. Joe Wilson, R-Springdale, are urging the Army to make sure that money for the repairs is included in next year’s budget.
In a joint letter to top Army officials last week, the two Republican S.C. members of Congress said the result of what they called an erroneous decision was clear.
“The barracks are now in a state of complete disrepair and continue to further deteriorate,” they wrote in the letter, addressed to Army Acting Secretary Patrick Murphy and Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley. “Requiring our recruits to live in substandard conditions is unacceptable.”
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Photos attached to their letter showed rust on many metal fixtures and heavy water damage, mold and missing panels in barracks ceilings. Fort Jackson is the country’s largest training center for new recruits, processing more than 45,000 basic recruits and advanced soldiers annually.
“The facilities in question are the reception buildings, and for trainees that’s literally their first impression when they come to Fort Jackson, since they spend much of their first week there,” said Fort Jackson public affairs officer Christopher Fletcher.
Initially, the training center was budgeted to receive $37.5 million to renovate and repair three barracks over three years, starting in 2016. The barracks, built in 1972, house up to 538 recruits at a time, Fletcher said.
While the Army has not yet released a decision on its funding priorities for the next fiscal year, when Wilson brought up the Columbia fort at a House Armed Services Committee hearing last week, Milley said Fort Jackson would be included.
“There are several projects that you'll see in the budget that are targeted specifically to Fort Jackson because I’m not satisfied with the quality of the barracks that are there, and we’re going to upgrade some of those,” he said.
He also said money for some related items that was going to be included in the 2018 and 2019 budgets would be requested sooner.
“The condition of some of the facilities at Jackson are unsatisfactory and don’t meet Army standards,” Milley said.
Wilson served in the U.S. Army Reserves and S.C. Army National Guard for 31 years and has four sons who served in the military.
Fort Jackson, which lies in his district, trains almost 40 percent of the Army’s combat soldiers and more than half of the women who enter the Army each year.
“I am grateful General Mark Milley shares my concerns about the unsatisfactory circumstances at Fort Jackson,” Wilson said Wednesday. “I look forward to working with him and other members of the Army to complete the necessary updates to the barracks.”
Graham and Wilson also asked the Army to beef up security at the fort’s entrance. They said the base “does not have adequate force protection measures in place to ensure the base’s perimeter security.”
The training center receives more than 200,000 visitors every year, all of whom all must be vetted before they can enter. Funding for a new visitor-control center and improved gate access that Wilson and Graham asked for, which already is under construction, will allow the facility to divert the weekly visitor traffic of 3,500 to 5,000, “thereby reducing traffic congestion and enhancing installation security,” Fletcher said.
Fort Jackson announced last summer that it would reduce its active-duty personnel by 180 under the Pentagon’s budget – about 6 percent. That’s relatively few given that the Army projects reducing its force by 40,000 soldiers after 15 years of war in Iraq and Afghanistan.
By comparison, Fort Benning, near Columbus, Ga., is expected to lose 29 percent of its active-duty personnel by fiscal year 2017.