In 1917 as the United States was preparing to enter World War I, the Army began searching for a location for a southeastern training center. Columbia’s business leaders played a central role in bringing Camp Jackson to our city, with Edwin Robertson, a prominent banker and president of The Columbia Record, heading up the effort.
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There are two important similarities between Columbia’s efforts to establish Camp Jackson and our efforts now to protect Fort Jackson from reductions by the Base Realignment and Closure Commission, which has closed more than 350 bases.
First, Columbia’s leaders always recognized the importance of Fort Jackson to our economy. Mr. Robertson said in 1917 that “literally millions of dollars would be added to the permanent wealth of Columbia in a very few years.” A 2015 USC study put the fort’s economic impact in the Midlands at $2 billion annually, supporting thousands of jobs and millions of dollars in personal income. The 2005 BRAC decision gave Fort Jackson three new missions.
Second, a unified, proactive community effort over the long-term makes a difference. Edward Robertson took the lead in 1917 in purchasing the land for the post. The late Ike McLeese developed a strategy 11 years ago that highlighted Columbia as the most military-friendly community in the country. Bill Dukes, Carl Blackstone, the Columbia Chamber Committee, Mayor Steve Benjamin and our city and county elected officials are doing the same today.
While many of the problems that hampered Columbia’s efforts in pursuing Camp Jackson in 1917 are still with us, such as flooding and poor roads, there has been great progress on diversity and racial reconciliation. Racial issues dominated the discussion in 1917 in the segregated South, but now the Army is the model for diversity, and Fort Jackson trains 60 percent of the women entering the Army.
As we celebrate Fort Jackson’s centennial, we are proud of all who served, sacrificed and trained here. Our community will fight just as hard for Fort Jackson over the next 100 years as the past 100.