Fort Jackson’s new commander, Brig. Gen. Bradley A. Becker, takes over the reins of the U.S. Army’s largest basic training facility at a difficult time for the service and the installation.
Present and future budget cuts, as well as a drawdown of soldiers after more than a decade of war, could have an impact on Fort Jackson, which presently trains about 50,000 new soldiers a year. Continued furloughs of civilian Department of Defense workers could also have a big impact on the base, which employs about 3,600.
Becker, 49, said he will weigh the potential effects with his staff as he settles into his new job.
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“We’ll let our senior leaders worry about how we’re going to make all that work with budget cuts, sequestration, furloughs and things that come down the road,” Becker said in a press conference before Tuesday’s change of command ceremony at the fort. “But down at the soldier level, it’s our responsibility to see that they don’t see that as an issue and they can focus on training and doing their jobs and that they have what they need to do that.”
The Sacramento, Calif., native took over as Fort Jackson’s 46th commanding general on Tuesday during a pomp and circumstance-filled ceremony held at Victory Field outside the officers’ club. A crowd of more than 200 came out on a cool, clear morning to greet the new commander. Notables included Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin, University of South Carolina president Harris Pastides and Ike McLeese, civilian liaison to the secretary of the Army and president and CEO of the Greater Columbia Chamber of Commerce.
“He seems to be an in-control type of guy,” McLeese said. “I’m looking forward to working with him and getting to know him better.”
McLeese said that Becker is a huge college football fan, noting that his favorite team is the “other USC.”
“We talked business for five minutes and football for the next 30,” McLeese said.
Benjamin said he met with Becker briefly.
“I look forward to continuing our partnership with Fort Jackson,” he said. “Fort Jackson is not only important to the economy of Columbia, it is part of the fabric of who we are.”
Becker, a 27-year Army veteran, took command from outgoing interim commander Brig. Gen. Peggy C. Combs. Presiding over the ceremony was Maj. Gen. Bradley May, a former Fort Jackson commander who is now deputy commanding general, Initial Military Training Center of Excellence, Fort Eustis, Va.
“I can’t think of any more important responsibility, other than leading soldiers in combat, than transforming volunteers into soldiers and developing our future leaders,” said Becker, who previously was assistant deputy director for Joint Training, J-7, Joint Staff, in Suffolk, Va.
The military is in the midst of historic changes, facing $600 billion in budget cuts and another round of base closures and relocations that could occur as soon as 2015.
The Army is expected to reduce its standing number of troops to 490,000 from 560,000. Becker said he doesn’t expect the troop drawdown to reduce the number of soldiers trained at the base, which could affect not only staffing at the facility but also the nearly $2 billion per year economic impact of the base in the community.
“I don’t think it will have a significant impact on the numbers, but I’ll have to sit down with staff and see,” he said.
The Army also faces challenges with increasing complaints of sexual harassment, which Becker said will not be tolerated.
“That is just not acceptable. It degrades the mission. It impacts the entire unit, and to the victims, it’s absolutely unacceptable. It’s something that is reality. You’ve got to deal with it,” he said.
Fort Jackson’s previous commander, Brig. Gen. Bryan Roberts, left in a sex scandal a little over a year after taking command. He was removed from the fort’s top post in July after allegations of misconduct, including adultery and a physical altercation. The misconduct did not involve sexual assault or harassment. But, the Army said, it was “a breach of order and discipline that violated standards of the Army profession.”
Becker, whose awards and decorations include the Legion of Merit, Bronze Star Medal and Combat Action Badge, has been deployed to Iraq three times and also served overseas in Saudi Arabia for Operation Desert Storm, in Germany and in Korea.
Becker and his wife, Sherri, are both from Sacramento, Calif., where they met in a driver’s education class in high school. They have two sons, Derek, 22, a student at Washington State University at Pullman, and Andrew, 18, who attends Gonzaga University in Spokane, Wash.
Becker said his first impression of Columbia was very positive.
“I’ve always heard that Columbia is the most supportive, military-friendly community in all of the United States, and in the four days we’ve been here, I believe that to be true,” he said.