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Fort Jackson’s commanding general speaks to Rotary

Posted: March 24, 2015 6:33 p.m.
Updated: March 25, 2015 1:00 a.m.
Official photo from Facebook/

Gen. Bradley A. Becker ... Fort Jackson commander

The military plays a major role in the lives of many Midlands residents and contributes significantly to our economy, with Fort Jackson and Shaw Air Force base providing jobs to the area. There have been recent discussions on cutting back the fort’s personnel by as much as half, a move local government and business leaders say would have a large, negative impact. Fort Jackson’s commanding officer, General Bradley A. Becker, recently visited a meeting of the Camden Rotary Club to explain the base’s purpose in United States security and the economic benefit it provides to the region.

Kershaw County Council Chairman Julian Burns, himself a retired U.S. Army general, introduced Becker.

“As you know, 150 years ago, the Federal Army came through this county and left us a smoking ruin. Well, they’re back,” Burns said, causing the room to fill with laughter. “I went into the Army in 1966 through Fort Jackson. My children went through there. Many of you served there and you can know from that past and the future that we have great, number one world-class leadership in General Becker.”

Becker said Fort Jackson started in 1917 when Columbia residents donated 2,000 acres to the U.S. government in hopes an Army camp would be placed there. “Camp Jackson” was the result, and the property now is made of nearly 52,000 acres. It is a basic training installation and is the first stop for many soldiers when they join the Army.

“We trained about half a million soldiers for World War II, the greatest generation, and have been training soldiers ever since for Korea, Vietnam, all throughout the Cold War, Desert Shield and Desert Storm,” Becker said. “Fort Jackson was the first home of the 101st Airborne Division. I want to talk about this current generation of soldiers, the millennial generation that have been fighting our two longest wars over these past 13 or 14 years. This is the first generation of soldiers that has fought a sustained war as an all-volunteer force.”

Becker said the current generation of soldiers has distinguished itself with bravery and skill, earning 11 Medals of Honor, 27 Distinguished Service Crosses, 624 Silver Stars, 14,769 awards for valor, 168,000 Bronze Stars and nearly 31,000 Purple Hearts for being wounded in combat.

“When history looks back on this generation in this critical time in our history, fighting violent extremism, they’re going to look very fondly on this current generation of soldiers,” Becker said. “Fort Jackson is the largest initial entry training site in the United States Army. We train about 70,000 a year. Fifty-four percent of all the soldiers that enter the United States Army for basic combat training will come through Fort Jackson.”

Becker said the base also provides specialized training in a variety of skills and trains members of other service branches in combat.

He said if Fort Jackson’s personnel numbers are reduced, it would have the greatest financial impact on the base itself and the immediate area around it, but the entire region, including Kershaw County, would feel a “ripple effect” of lost revenue.

“We get about 200,000 visitors annually. We have 45 graduations a year, just about every Thursday. A typical graduation will be 800 to 1,100 soldiers and they typically bring 3,000 to 5,000 visitors from all over the United States,” Becker said. “Fort Jackson itself, based on employment, our soldiers living and working here, as well as our civilians as well as our visitors provide anywhere from $2.2 to $2.6 billion a year of economic impact to the Midlands.”

Kershaw County Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Liz Horton said Kershaw County sees economic benefits from not only those stationed at Fort Jackson and their families and visitors, but a good number of military retirees from other areas who choose to live out their lives in the Midlands.

“Military retirees have a positive and unique impact on the state’s economy because they receive regular retirement payments from the Department of Defense and many embark on a second career after leaving the Armed Services,” Horton said. “The military retirement system paid out approximately $1.3 billion in pension payments to South Carolina’s military retirees in fiscal year 2011.”

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