How Fort Jackson is Celebrating its 100th Birthday

July 13, 2016 | Posted By: Connor Watkins

July Breakfast

The Greater Lexington Chamber hosted its monthly breakfast Tuesday and the topic of conversation was an upcoming 100th birthday for a Midlands institution. Fort Jackson, the largest basic training installation in the entire US Army, will celebrate its centennial birthday in 2017.

Gateway to the Army Association President and CSM (retired) Martin Wells spoke to the audience about plans to commemorate Fort Jackson, which opened its doors in the May-June timeframe of 1917. At the time, it was known as Camp Jackson, and it was used to train the first soldiers in this area for World War I.

“We think Centennial Park will stand not only as a good testament to a Midlands community coming together to honor Fort Jackson in a way that they haven’t done in the last 100 years,” Wells said. “What we’re trying to do quite frankly I haven’t seen in any other military installation in my 26 years.”

The plan calls for a huge soldier statue, 20-feet high and made of granite. The statue will be of two drill sergeants standing side by side, one male and one female. They will be surrounded by an amphitheater, which will be named Wildcat Amphitheater after the 81st Infantry Division, the first division to train at Camp Jackson in 1917.

“The drill sergeants are really the key to the primary mission of Fort Jackson,” said Wells, who is also the Program Director of the Celebrate Freedom Foundation.

Centennial Park will also include a pathway of patriots. This will be a place that anybody in the community, the state or the nation can buy a paver to support the project. You could buy one to honor a grandfather that served or buy one for yourself, whether you served or not.

“We want this to be a true community gift to Fort Jackson looking forward,” said Wells, who indicated the project will also include six pavilions for visitors to use.

There will also be an educational aspect to Centennial Park. You may see a middle school class on a field trip to Fort Jackson, and the students will be able to use their IPads to click on QR codes on something in Centennial Park to get information. The information could be a tribute to the Medal of Honor, what it takes to earn a Purple Heart, or what POWs and MIAs are all about. The students will be able to do that on a stroll through Centennial Park.

Another interesting fact about Fort Jackson is that every chaplain that comes, not just in the Army, but into the Department of Defense for all of the services, comes through Fort Jackson for their initial training and various other courses.

“There’s also a business aspect to Fort Jackson, and that is right there at the top of the list of what our association is doing to honor Fort Jackson, not only for its past, but going forward,” Wells said.

Since opening its gates in 1917, more than five million Americans have come through Fort Jackson, according to Wells. Every year, Fort Jackson generates more than 2.3 billion dollars for the Midlands community. Over 43 million of that goes into the restaurants, hotels and shopping malls. The 3,000-5,000 visitors that come through Fort Jackson every week to see their family members graduate impact Lexington and Richland Counties. Any business you can think of is impacted by the military.

Wells also talked about the acronym BRAC, which stands for Base Realignment and Closure, a process that involves Department of Defense officials visiting all the major installations around the country and deciding which ones should be considered for closure and which ones should be considered for expansion. Fort Jackson has benefited from the past couple of BRACs with the chaplain school moving here, along with some other entities. The last BRAC was in February and March of 2015, and it is anticipated another will occur in either 2019 or 2021.

Some of the more well-known community members involved with the Gateway to the Army Association include Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin, Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott, NBA Hall of Famer Alex English.

The breakfast was sponsored by Webster University and catered by Crescent Moon Restaurant.