Army leaders at a listening session on potential cuts at Fort Jackson on Thursday said a decision would be made in late spring, announced in early summer and the outcome would be enforced Oct. 1.
But Brig. Gen. Roger Cloutier Jr., who is conducting 30 listening sessions at bases across the nation, said no decision has yet been made.
“Your voice matters,” said Cloutier, who coincidentally will take command of Fort Jackson in May.
A crowd approaching 2,000 gathered at the Shandon Baptist Church on Forest Drive Thursday to show support for Fort Jackson before a panel of U.S. Army officers in town to hear about the effect of potentially deep cuts at the nation’s largest training bases.
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Gov. Nikki Haley was joined by the leadership of the General Assembly and more than a dozen state lawmakers to proclaim South Carolina as the most military-friendly state in the nation. Members of the congressional delegation supplied recorded remarks.
She urged Army brass to consider not just the economic impact of Fort Jackson on the community when contemplating potential cuts, but also the state’s efforts to support and sustain troops stationed here.
“It’s not just about the money,” Haley said. “It’s not just about the jobs. Those things are important. But it’s about the soldiers.”
The governor rattled off several pieces of legislation the state has adopted to support troops, from allowing the transfer of professional licenses for service members and their spouses, to keeping property taxes lower on their homes when they are deployed.
“We consider the military to be part of our family,” she said.
Many city and county officials as well as business and education leaders highlighted the fort’s importance to the community’s economy.
“Fort Jackson is a marquee asset for Columbia and a marquee asset for South Carolina,” said Boyd Jones, chairman of the Greater Columbia Chamber of Commerce, which hosted the event.
Fort Jackson is the military’s largest training base, churning out 45,000 new soldiers each year from basic training and it provides advanced training for another 25,000, from chaplains to drill sergeants to polygraph technicians.
It generates about $2 billion for the local economy annually, according to a study by the University of South Carolina Moore School of Business.
The Army last year asked 30 of the nation’s largest bases to assess the impacts to of deep cuts to their local economies. It directed Maj. Gen. Bradley Becker, Fort Jackson’s commander, to assess the impact of losing about half the workforce at the fort, about 3,100 jobs.
The cuts are because of reductions in the military after 13 years of war in Iraq and Afghanistan, and deeper cuts to both the military and domestic spending mandated by Congress as a result of the 2011 debt ceiling fight, called “the sequester.”
U.S. Sens. Lindsey Graham and Tim Scott, and U.S. Reps. Jim Clyburn and Joe Wilson, who addressed the gathering with taped remarks, all said the sequester should be modified or repealed.
“I’m trying my best to get a better budget,” Graham said. “But now is the time, above all others, (for the Army and lawmakers) to make good decisions.”
The dignitaries spoke for about an hour an a half. Afterward, dozens of members of the public took the microphone, including Iraq War veteran Ramon Guitard, who lost both legs in a roadside bomb attack.
“Fort Jackson stood up for me and my family when we needed it,” said Guitard, who now walks on high-tech graphite prosthetic legs. “Now I want to stand up for the fort.”
“My dad was stationed here,” said Bob Hubble, an example of a resident drawn to Columbia by the post. “I fell in love with Columbia and decided to stay.”
“Fort Jackson benefits the whole community,” Wanda Taylor said. “We would have a lot to replace without it. Columbia has developed around it.”
Ed Murray agrees. “The fort is a very good neighbor and very good for the economy.”
No one is certain what will happen at Fort Jackson, Becker has said. And that uncertainty could continue for another year, until Congress decides whether to let $1.2 trillion in sequester cuts – half to the military, half to domestic spending – kick in.
The sequester would force the Army to shrink to 420,000 soldiers in 2019 from 518,000 today.
What folks were saying
|"I’m here because of the fort. My dad was stationed here. I fell in love with Columbia and decided to stay." |
|"We consider the military to be part of our family." |
Gov. Nikki Haley
|"The fort is a very good neighbor and very good for the economy." |
|"Fort Jackson benefits the whole community. We would have a lot to replace without it. Columbia has developed around it." |
|"We have a great relationship with Fort Jackson. We’re all about relationships with the community. And the fort is a big part of this community." |
|"Fort Jackson stood up for me and my family when we needed it. Now I want to stand up for the fort." |
Ramon Guitard, veteran