Fort Jackson steels itself to possible loss of 3,100 jobs

By Chuck Crumbo
ccrumbo@scbiznews.com
Published March 27, 2014

Fort Jackson and the post’s local supporters are bracing for the possibility that 3,100 military and civilian jobs could be lost by the end of the decade.

The cuts, which would eliminate more than 40% of Fort Jackson’s current workforce of 7,000 troops and civilians, could happen if Congress allows budget sequestration to resume in 2016, said Col. Dan Beatty, chief of staff at Fort Jackson.

At Wednesday’s meeting of the S.C. Military Base Task Force, Beatty emphasized that no decision has been made and that the worst-case scenario is part of an Army study on how the potential personnel cutbacks would affect local installations.

What’s driving the study is the possibility that sequestration — which was suspended when Congress passed a budget last year — would resume in 2016.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel already has proposed trimming the Army’s active-duty strength by 6% to some 490,000 soldiers by 2015 from the current level of 522,000. Hagel’s proposed budget also calls for lowering troop levels to 450,000 by 2019, about 30,000 fewer than the number of soldiers who were on duty on Sept. 11, 2001.

If sequestration resumes, automatic across-the-board budget cuts could lead to an active-duty force of 420,000 soldiers — 30,000 fewer than Hagel has proposed.

A smaller Army means there would be fewer soldiers to train at Fort Jackson. Presently, 45,000 soldiers a year go through basic combat training at the Columbia post, and another 25,000 to 30,000 receive additional training at Fort Jackson for their military jobs.

Local leaders, though, aren’t waiting to see if sequestration resumes and heavy budget cuts hit Fort Jackson, which has an estimated economic impact of $2.6 billion a year on the Midlands.

Officials have been in contact with the state’s congressional delegation and are working on a proposal showing how Fort Jackson could take on more missions, said retired Army Maj. Gen. George Goldsmith, chairman of the Greater Columbia Chamber of Commerce’s military affairs committee.

The potential loss of jobs is the top concern, Goldsmith said. He estimated that about 700 of the potential job cuts would be civilian positions. Military jobs like drill sergeants would be reassigned to other posts, Goldsmith said.

Civilians, though, handle an array of tasks from planning and facilities management to public affairs to cooking meals to soldiers.

What local leaders are exploring is the possibility of having the Army move all or some of the training missions at other posts to Fort Jackson, which is the Army’s largest training center.

For example, three other posts — Fort Benning, Ga.; Fort Leonard Wood, Mo.; and Fort Sill, Okla. — have basic training units in addition to being home to combat arms and combat support units.

All Army basic combat training could be consolidated and offered at Fort Jackson, Goldsmith said.

“As we look at downsizing of the basic training component, we can take that away from one of these other posts that have other missions,” Goldsmith said. “Why do you need basic training at Fort Benning if you could move it to Fort Jackson?”

Reach Chuck Crumbo at 803-726-7542.

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