Brigadier General Bradley A. Becker received two standing ovations during his address to the crowd at the GLC&VC’s July breakfast, which was sponsored by LICS.
Becker, who is the 46th Commanding General of the United States Army Training Center and Fort Jackson, discussed Fort Jackson’s mission and its significant economic impact on the Midlands. Becker also touched on potential downsizing due to budget reductions and sequestration.
Being the nation’s largest initial entry training site, Fort Jackson has a tremendous economic impact on the state of South Carolina, falling somewhere between $2.6 billion and $3 billion, according to Becker.
Fort Jackson is the site where approximately 75,000 soldiers are trained annually. About 45,000 of those go through basic combat training, which is the “heart and soul of what we do at Fort Jackson,” according to Becker, who also oversees 3,500 active military and 3,500 civilian employees, of which about 40% live in Lexington County and go to work every day at Fort Jackson.
“The whole process we consider a transformation,” Becker said. “We’re taking civilians who come into Fort Jackson with no military experience and in ten weeks, we transform them into American soldiers, where they will go out to their advanced individual training and then their first unit of assignment.”
Buses haul 600-800 soldiers onto Fort Jackson at the beginning of each week, and they are immediately under total control of the drill sergeant. During this first phase of training, which they refer to as the Red Phase, soldiers learn Army values, the warrior ethos, basic military customs and courtesies, and they start physical training. Soldiers are also given a weapon within the first 48 hours, and they begin the “immersion process with their individual weapon,” Becker said.
The White Phase is next, and this is when the soldiers really hone their warrior skills. They also continue their physical training, get medical training, weapon training, learn individual soldier skills and participate in warrior tasks and battle drills.
The final portion of the training is the Blue Phase, which involves tactical training. They finish with a five-day stint living in the woods and performing different missions as they operate out of a patrol base. That’s the culmination of the ten-week training regimen, which is followed by graduation.
Fort Jackson graduates between 600 and 1,200 soldiers every week, and visitors come in from all over the U.S. for the ceremonies. Becker said the visitors are always amazed at the transformation their family members have undergone during the ten weeks of training.
The Army has three other initial training sites, but Fort Jackson handles more than the other three combined with 54% of all soldiers who enter the United States Army going through basic combat training right here in the Midlands. The other three locations train the other 46%. The disparity is greater among women with 61% of all females entering the Army coming through Fort Jackson.
But basic combat training isn’t the only thing going on at Fort Jackson, which houses numerous other programs including a chaplain school for all branches of the service, a wheeled vehicle mechanics course, the Army’s master fitness training school and more. About 2,000 sailors come through Fort Jackson every year to train as soldiers before being deployed to support army units. The US Army drill sergeant school is also at Fort Jackson, so every drill sergeant at all four locations is trained here.
“Things are going well at Fort Jackson. The last round of sequestration didn’t hurt us too bad,” said Becker, who also pointed out that they do face challenges.
Some of the numbers are bound to drop with the mandated downsizing. The Army will downsize in active duty numbers from 570,000 to about 490,000 by 2015. The goal is to be at 440,000 by 2017. At that number, the Army will still be capable of supporting the national security strategy, but it would be at high risk. Anything below that number, and the national security strategy would need to be looked at.
The hope is that Congress will take action in the near future to avoid any of these potential downfalls.
“If there is no action in Congress between now and 2016, sequestration level cuts that went into effect a couple years ago will go back into effect, because the 2015 budget will be over,” Becker said. “If those go into effect, the Army could go as low as 420,000 or even lower. At that point, I think we could see some significant impact at Fort Jackson.”