By Ms. Elyssa Vondra (Jackson)April 25, 2019
Fort Jackson's century-long partnership with the Greater Columbia Region and the Columbia Chamber of Commerce, launched when the Chamber led a fundraising campaign to purchase the land for the installation in 1917 -- at the time a World War I training site -- is being recognized in 2019, with the Greater Columbia Region named as one of five nationwide Great American Defense Communities of the year.
The Association of Defense Communities acknowledges regions across the country that strengthen the quality of life for veterans, service members and their Families annually.
Two Fort Jackson-based initiatives, the Spousal Employment Program and the Student Ambassador Program, were recognized for contributing to this year's win.
"We have a great partnership with our military community," said Carl Blackstone, president and CEO of the Columbia Chamber. "It is a mutually beneficial relationship in that we not only foster the nation's security; the military is a huge part of our neighborhoods and business community. The economic impact from Fort Jackson ... is $2.4 billion."
"It's good to have that connection with … the city," said Gary Williams, a Fort Jackson school liaison, whose office helps coordinate the Student Ambassador Program. "Everybody is working hand-in-hand."
The Student Ambassador Program, created in partnership with the Columbia Chamber and Richland School District Two, pairs any interested student residing on Fort Jackson in grades 6th-12th with another student of the same age, an ambassador who acts as a friend and tour guide, attending a school off-post "to get them acclimated to the school," said Fred Henley, school liaison.
The program "started as a community partnership," said Susan McPherson, director of Public Policy & Military Affairs with the Columbia Chamber of Commerce. "We wanted to make sure that (students and their Families) felt like they had a link" with the community off-post to prepare for the transition.
Sixth grade students from C.C. Pinckney Elementary School can act as honorary 7th grade students for a day through the program, sitting in on classes and getting an inside look at the school to "get a good feel of what middle school would be like," Williams said.
Students in the surrounding region start middle school in 6th grade; Fort Jackson students who attend C.C. Pinckney, which hosts 2nd-6th grade, begin their middle school experience one year later.
Having a day to get accustomed to the school helps them prepare for what they will face the next year, taking some of the pressure off and helping them catch up to their off-post counterparts, Williams explained.
Students aren't the only ones who Fort Jackson works with the Greater Columbia Region to help.
Employment programs coordinated between on and off-post partners have assisted spouses, too.
The state Department of Employment Workforce offers "lots of resources" for Soldiers and their spouses on writing resumes and finding employment, said Madelyn Mercado, Army Community Service director.
Soldier for Life is an installation program that offers classes on topics like resume writing and interview skills to Soldiers leaving the military and their spouses to ease the transition into the civilian workforce.
"When you go from military to civilian, everything changes," McPherson said. There isn't always a direct MOS to civilian job conversion, so the aim of the program is "to retain the talent of the military."
"We capitalize on the strengths of the military and are fortunate that the military shares their skills with the public schools and universities, law enforcement, emergency response," and more, Blackstone said. "Representatives of the military participate on Chamber and community business committees, education advisory boards and consult on workforce development opportunities."
Knowing they will be taken care of after leaving the services "takes a lot of pressure off our Soldiers," helping them to focus on the mission, McPherson said, and one of the Chamber's goals is to "protect and promote the mission" of the Army.