A hundred years ago, civic and business leaders in Columbia convinced the U.S. Army to establish a base in Richland County to train soldiers for World War I.
We should build a monument that eternally thanks those men and women.
It’s frightful to think what living in the Midlands would be like today without Fort Jackson, the Army’s largest basic training facility. The base creates jobs, sends soldiers to volunteer in our community, brings positive publicity, attracts thousands of visitors annually, and beckons military retirees to move here after their active duty days are over.
On Saturday, Fort Jackson will officially launch its yearlong centennial celebration with the annual Army Birthday Ball at the Columbia Metropolitan Convention Center.
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During the next year, the public will have plenty of opportunities to help the fort celebrate. We encourage everyone to do so, not only to recognize the fort’s contributions but also to see first-hand the dedicated women and men serving our nation and keeping it free.
Fort officials estimate that by the time the celebration is over in June 2017, five million soldiers will have trained there since it opened.
By June 2012, five million soldiers will have received training at Fort Jackson.
No soldiers would have trained here had those civic and business leaders not decided in 1916 to push the local site. On May 19, 1917, Major Douglas McArthur announced that Columbia was one of 16 sites across the nation chosen for new training sites, according to a history of Fort Jackson produced for its 50th anniversary.
The local base was later named for Andrew Jackson, an Army major general during the War of 1812 who became the nation’s seventh president. While some dispute the location of Jackson’s birth, we say it was in South Carolina.
Since 1917, the fort has trained soldiers who fought in every U.S. war and who worked to keep the peace between conflicts. During World War II, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill visited Fort Jackson to watch U.S. soldiers undergo training. “They’re just like money in the bank,” he remarked, according to the 50-year history.
Soldiers trained at Fort Jackson subsequently served during the Korean and Vietnam wars and during the wars in the Kuwait, Afghanistan and Iraq. They helped win the Cold War. They also have helped deter aggression and support our friends around the world.
The fort has certainly lived up to its motto: “Victory Starts Here.”
Last week, Secretary of the Army Eric K. Fanning visited Fort Jackson to observe training. He called it “a premier installation.”
“My expectations when visiting an installation are always high ...,” he said. "But I will say that today definitely exceeded my expectations."
Most soldiers never forget their time here. When talking to people in other states, Columbians often hear stories about the weeks former and current soldiers spent at Fort Jackson. Many speak fondly of the city and its people.
Fort Jackson is one of the city’s major economic forces. A study released last year by the University of South Carolina showed the fort has a total economic impact of $2.2 billion in South Carolina. That includes about $1 billion in labor income from salaries paid by the Army and from private jobs generated by the fort throughout the Midlands.
A study released last year by the University of South Carolina showed the fort has a total economic impact of $2.2 billion in South Carolina.
The impact is felt all across the economy, from farms, utility companies and health care facilities to restaurants, retail stores, hotels, taxis and real estate companies.
Each year, about 40,000 to 50,000 recruits are trained at the fort. Although they are confined to the base during their weeks here, thousands of their relatives and friends visit Columbia each week for basic training graduation. They buy food, rent hotel rooms, and shop in our local stores.
While the fort’s primary mission is basic training, it also houses several other key Army training facilities. They include a drill sergeant academy, a chaplain’s school and a soldier support institute. Navy personnel assigned to potentially dangerous posts on land around the world receive extra combat training at the fort.
The USC study reported that about 200,000 people visit Fort Jackson every year, including recruits, soldiers, family members and friends.
Many local residents tout Columbia as being the nation’s most military friendly city. We should be, because the city and state have benefitted exponentially from the fort’s presence.
Jobs and economic development are obviously important. But they are overshadowed by the fort’s primary mission.
Thanks to the men and women who, 100 years later, continue to make Fort Jackson a vital military institution. Because of them, victory still starts here.