Let's Ask: Army retiree appreciates Columbia, plans to stick around

Army Command Sgt. Major Brian Carlson stands with his wife Diana at Fort Jackson last month when he retired.
Army Command Sgt. Major Brian Carlson stands with his wife Diana at Fort Jackson last month when he retired.

When it came time for Brian Carlson, the former highest ranking enlisted soldier at Fort Jackson, to hang up his boots after 30 years last month, he choose to stay in Columbia. The 48-year-old Illinois native, like most military retirees, plans to start a second career that will call on his Army experience. Having military retirees and veterans in the community is a good recruiting tool for businesses, community leaders say. That’s because the veterans offer the technical know-how and have the work ethic businesses seek.

So, why did you want to retire in the Columbia area?

“It's a good town. It's a good community. Everything you could ever want is here. I think the community relationship with Fort Jackson is just fabulous.”

Family was a big part of the equation, said Carlson, a veteran of Desert Storm and both the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

The couple’s youngest daughter is a student at USC, and his oldest daughter is living at home while her husband, who is in the Army, trains for his job as a helicopter pilot. Carlson’s son also is in the Army and is stationed at Fort Stewart, Ga.

“We just feel like this has become home to us.”

What are your plans for civilian life?

Carlson recently bought a home in Northeast Richland and is exploring jobs in both the government and private sectors.

Either way, his work will be related to the military, he said.

"I want to find one that I‘m not only going to be happy with long-term but one that is compensating me for what they’re asking of me.

“We’ll just see which one I can make the most difference at.”

One thing that attracts retirees to the area is Fort Jackson. It’s where they can receive medical care, enjoy recreational facilities on the post such as the golf course and remain connected to the military.

Fort Jackson is one reason some 170,000 veterans live within an hour’s drive of Columbia, business leaders say.

How does the Army help you plan for retirement?

“As you probably know, everybody can retire after 20 years. For us, 20 years is at the point where you’ve just received or will receive the highest rank you’ll ever hold. “

For Carlson, that meant being promoted to command sergeant major, the top rank for an enlisted soldier.

Carlson said many soldiers will serve at least one tour at their top rank. “Anything after that really comes down to how much you enjoy your job.”

What have you learned in the Army that you think will prepare you for civilian life?

For some, making the transition from the structure and discipline of life in the military can be challenging. Many retirees even find civilian life chaotic.

“I think my last two tours in combat has allowed me to deal with chaotic change,” Carlson said.

“The two things I think the Army does well over the course of someone’s career is that it develops a sound understanding of duty and a sound belief in loyalty. Those two things allow you to get through any amount of chaos.”

A lot of attention lately has been focused on recruiting, in particular, whether some recruits are physically fit. What do you think?

You need to put the issue into perspective, Carlson said.

“In the ‘60s and ‘70s, we grew up in an environment where we didn’t have any electronic devices, we didn’t have computers. For you to do anything entertaining it involved physical activity.

“So, just by nature we’re more apt to go out and do physical things for entertainment.

“Whereas today’s generation has electronics. And the reason why I like to put it into context is ... if I had those things at the age of 10, 11, 12, I would have done the same thing.

“I do believe they are less fit, but having said that I also think they bring attributes that my generation did not bring. The fact that these soldiers are much more technologically capable coming in to the Army makes them much better prepared to deal with the technology that the Army has embraced.

“Physical conditioning is something that can be attained. Everybody can become fit and be taught a healthy lifestyle.”

What do you think you’ll miss the most about the Army?

“The thing I’ve enjoyed the most is being able to mentor, develop or impact in a positive manner a younger soldier. I’ve enjoyed that — talking to the younger soldiers and passing experience on.”

— Chuck Crumbo