Fort Jackson’s commander said Wednesday that he is very optimistic about the immediate future of the base but is uncertain about the long term.
Maj. Gen. Bradley A. Becker held a round-table discussion with members of the media to discuss his first year as the commander of Fort Jackson and his priorities for his remaining time in command.
Becker said Fort Jackson trained about 70,000 soldiers since this time last year, with about 45,000 going through basic combat training.
“That’s the heart and soul of what we do,” he said.
Becker does not expect any reduction in those numbers in the fiscal year, which began Wednesday, but said the future beyond that is murky. The U.S. Army is evaluating the economic impact of personnel cuts at 30 bases nationwide, including Fort Jackson.
The Columbia Chamber organized a Save Our Fort initiative, sending the army a petition with more than 17,000 signatures protesting potential cuts of up to 3,100 Fort Jackson personnel.
Becker said only two communities of the 30 being evaluated submitted more signatures than Columbia, and many submitted much fewer.
“Seventeen thousand is huge,” he said. “I believe the voices of the community here were heard in Washington.”
Becker said those voices could make all the difference as army leadership decides where to make cuts.
“There are times when the army will make decisions on closings based on where they can get away with it politically.”
Midlands residents will have another chance to be heard early in 2015, as army leadership will hold local public forums in January and possibly February, although the exact dates have not been set. Becker said he does not expect any decisions before next summer.
“There are all kinds of options and none of them are concrete at this point,” he said. He added that much depends on whether Congress passes a new budget or extends the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2013, which expires at the end of 2015.
Failure to do so by Congress would mean a return to sequestration budget numbers as required by the Budget Control Act of 2011, and Becker said that could make the future of Fort Jackson extremely shaky.
“I don’t think any installation in the U.S. Army should feel safe if sequestration level cuts go into effect in 2016.” He added that the 3,100 cuts being evaluated is a worst-case scenario. “It’s not a number I think they’re fixed on,” he said.
He said if that scenario were to come true, it would drastically change Fort Jackson’s training mission. That level of cuts in military personnel would leave the base able to train only about 14,000 soldiers each year, as opposed to the current number of more than 70,000.
Becker said despite the long-term concerns he is pleased with the current state of the base and with the coming year.
“What I hear from families is how proud they are,” he said, and added that he thinks that pride is justified.
“I am very confident that we are producing the best soldiers and best leaders in the world,” Becker said. “For that reason, I sleep well at night.”
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