FORT JACKSON, S.C. -- Not long after taking command at Fort Jackson -- and the Milano Family becoming official residents of Columbia and, of course, South Carolina Gamecocks fans -- I began to realize just how fortunate we were to be part of the greater Columbia community. The one thing I noticed from the onset of our time here is that Soldiers and their Families are openly and warmly welcomed to the Midlands. Military members are not merely treated as visitors; they are welcomed as Family.

The mutually beneficial relationship between the post and the city has grown stronger over time. It began when local citizens donated the first acres to the government to build Fort Jackson. This relationship grew even stronger with the donation of the Andrew Jackson statue in honor of the Fort's 50th anniversary and continues to grow year after year, as witnessed through support for our "Hiring of Heroes" job fair just last week.

For years we have received tremendous support from businesses on and off post. Local restaurants have been feeding Soldiers for free. Sports teams -- university, professional and semi-professional -- have been giving tickets to Soldiers. The zoo has offered free admission and the local USO has sponsored countless parties and giveaways as well as offered tickets to other entertainment venues.

One of the most heartwarming gestures is an airport "send-off" program, developed and spearheaded by the Greater Columbia Chamber of Commerce military affairs committee, to ensure that our deploying Navy personnel do not leave Columbia without receiving an appropriate farewell salute. Veterans with their Families, veterans groups and military support organization volunteers show up at the airport to host a going-away party, complete with food, gifts and hugs before our Sailors depart. The chamber also sponsors the military appreciation celebration for Soldiers, civilian employees and Families, who are treated to a Blowfish baseball game.

Perhaps the type of hospitality found here stems from the residual effect of thousands of Soldiers and Families who choose to make their homes in the local area and actively participate in schools, churches and civic organizations. Many of our Soldiers, permanent party and students, also volunteer their time and energy to many of the city's worthwhile charitable activities.

Community generosity may explain why so many retiring Soldiers and their Families choose to stay in the Columbia area following their assignment to Fort Jackson. More than 40,000 military retirees make the Fort Jackson area their home. Many continue their service working as civilian employees and others provide volunteer services.

As for our end, I would like to think that Fort Jackson does everything possible to reciprocate and show its appreciation to our Midlands communities and that this is not a one-sided relationship. One of the things we do here is invite community members to take part in our outreach tours. I want citizens to know more about what their Army is doing at Fort Jackson -- attend graduation, observe our Soldiers in training, eat Army chow and learn the Army song. We have much to share, and we always welcome any opportunity to do so.

I offer my sincere thanks and appreciation to all those who make Columbia the vast military friendly community that it is.

Army Strong and Victory Starts Here!