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Being a Great Defense Community
This week, a group of business and elected leaders from the Tri-County region traveled to Washington D.C. to visit our Congressional delegation and meet with senior military officials. Our agenda focused on retention and expansion of the missions at Joint Base Charleston. Visits like this are critical because the military generates 1 out of every 12 jobs in South Carolina. No relationship can be taken for granted, but particularly not one with a $10.6 billion annual economic impact on our region.
While Capitol Hill and Pentagon appointments were the focus, our trip was timed to coincide with the Association of Defense Communities Annual Summit. There, Joint Base Charleston commanding officer Col. Rob Lyman was named Military Leader of the Year and the Charleston region was one of only eight places honored as a Great American Defense Community.
What earned Charleston this prestigious distinction? Our application cited multiple examples of innovative community/military partnerships including coordinated emergency services dispatch and huge strides in STEM education available to children of service members stationed at the Joint Base. Other honoree regions were recognized for inspiring programs to better serve veterans and welcome uniformed service members into communities.
At the opening session of the conference, Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson put an even finer point on how communities can best support military installations: great schools and spouse career support.
Sec. Wilson’s top two priorities reflect a fundamental reality for any enterprise – mission success demands good people. For the armed services, talent retention is about creating an environment where families can thrive, even when their stay in the community will necessarily be brief. For many soldiers, thriving means getting their kids into a great school with high academic standards and making sure their spouse can continue a rewarding career.
On both fronts, Charleston is making tremendous strides. Our robust economy and low unemployment mean there are opportunities available for skilled military spouses to earn good wages and advance their careers. Furthermore, the Charleston Metro Chamber and partners like the S.C. Military Base Task Force advocate for policies like expedited licensure for military spouses and recognition of military training for civilian credentialing. And on the great schools front, our Career Academies and apprenticeship programs are transforming the connection between students, curriculum and careers region-wide.
What really makes a great defense community? It’s more than saying thank you. It’s having individuals and organizations willing to understand the challenges and ready to roll up their sleeves and work every day to solve them. Aren’t those the same things that make any community great?