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. Look for more coverage on thestate.com later this week. On Saturday, learn about the former commanding generals who retired in the Midlands and worked to make the region better. On Sunday, read about plans for a Centennial park on the base.
Fort Jackson may take up more than 52,000 acres of Columbia area real estate, but its impact on local businesses sweeps way beyond that. Fort Jackson’s presence has benefited businesses, schools, civic organizations and others for 100 years. Here are five of them:
Folks who go to the Golden Corral on Forest Drive are used to seeing Fort Jackson soldiers in uniform among the daily lunch crowd. Especially on graduation days.
Never miss a local story.
After Fort Jackson’s Thursday graduations, Golden Corral, which is just a few hundred yards from the fort’s main gate, is full of new soldiers and proud families. “We staff it like it’s a Sunday afternoon,” says Golden Corral general manager Steven Shova, who has estimated the fort makes up about 30 percent of the restaurant’s business.
After graduations, the restaurant makes announcements every 30 minutes congratulating the new graduates that are greeted with cheers. “It’s a great day for these young folks,” Shova says. “Their families are very proud.”
The soldiers who patronize the restaurant are a privilege to serve, Shova says. Golden Corral offers a military discount, and feeds all veterans free from 4 p.m.-9 p.m. on the Monday after Veterans Day each year.
Columbia Metropolitan Airport
Folks around Columbia Metropolitan Airport are used to seeing soldiers coming and going. Recruits fly in for basic training. Soldiers fly out for other assignments. And in between, families, girlfriends and boyfriends fly in for visits and graduations.
“About 20 percent of our business is military or military-related,” says Dan Mann, executive director of Columbia Metropolitan Airport. “That 20 percent is the difference between having nine nonstop cities and 35-40 aircraft a day. It’s a stable source of income for the airport. Having Fort Jackson here helps us get better air service, which is good for the whole community.”
The United Service Organizations Inc., or USO, has an office at Columbia’s airport. The USO is a nonprofit organization that provides programs and services to United States service members and their families.
Lynne Douglas, customer service manager at the airport, works beside the USO. “It’s just amazing how they interact with the military families and soldiers,” Douglas says. “There are all kinds of stories. For example, sometimes soldiers will leave things, like graduation photos. The airport will mail them to them.”
The airport, she says, “takes great pride in being a part of that every day!”
Mann relates to the young recruits he sees fly into Columbia and board the bus headed to Fort Jackson. “The first time I flew I was 17 years old and heading to Air Force basic training,” he says.
When he sees soldiers flying out of Columbia after spending 10 weeks at Fort Jackson, he notices a different look on their faces, a different bearing. “It’s really amazing seeing the difference,” Mann says. “There is a different level of maturity.”
Claflin University, based in Orangeburg, is one of four colleges in Fort Jackson’s on-base continuing education center.
“Many of the active-duty soldiers and their families take advantage of our program,” says Cindye Richburg Cotton, executive director of Claflin’s Center for Professional and Continuing Studies. “The base has been very beneficial to our university.”
Claflin’s partnership with Fort Jackson has afforded the university the opportunity to bring another community to the school, says Mark Roberts, director of Claflin’s Fort Jackson campus. “We can proudly say we’re in Columbia on Fort Jackson,” Roberts says. “It’s an opportunity where there is no downside.”
Claflin offers two degree programs at the fort: criminal justice and organizational management.
Claflin understands the challenges military personnel face, such as deployment and transfers, and works with the Fort Jackson students to make sure they can continue to pursue their degrees. Claflin is a “military friendly” yellow ribbon school.
“We have a strong partnership with Fort Jackson,” Richburg Cotton says. “We’re excited, and feel privileged, to be able to serve this population.”
Soldiers make good students, she says. “They bring a different perspective to the classroom,” Richburg Cotton says. “A lot of them have had different experiences, have traveled extensively. And they’re evolving leaders. The training they acquire gives them different skill sets…they’re diligent about what they do.”
Fort Jackson has a presence at every Columbia Fireflies home game.
Aside from the soldiers who regularly come to watch the New York Mets’ minor league team play at Spirit Communications Park, the National Anthem is introduced by a representative from Fort Jackson each night on the videoboard. “A reminder to all of us that our military has and will continue put their lives on the line to defend our freedom,” Fireflies team president John Katz says.
“It’s an honor and a privilege to be the home team for the U.S. Army’s largest and most active basic training installation,” Katz says. “The Fireflies take great pride in honoring the brave men and women that serve, have served or will serve our great nation each and every night at the ballpark,” Katz says. “Having soldiers, veterans and their families at the park each night is both energizing and humbling.”
American Red Cross
The Red Cross has an office on Fort Jackson, which is staffed by the military.
Fort Jackson has blood drives nearly weekly, which produce about 1,200 units of blood a year. But the fort’s relationship with the Red Cross goes well beyond that.
Fort Jackson active duty soldiers help the local Red Cross in several ways, including helping install smoke detectors, staffing a dental assistant training program for Red Cross volunteers on base and working as advisors.
“We definitely value our partnership with military members,” says Nancy Cataldo, Service to the Armed Forces and International services director for Palmetto South Carolina Region for the Red Cross. “We’ve worked with the military for 135 years.”