Leadership Charleston Visits U.S. Cost Guard Sector Charleston and Joint Base Charleston

Written by Leadership Charleston Class of 2021 participant Lauren Brown, Communications Director for the South Carolina Democratic Party

Leadership Charleston’s March session focused on military and homeland security, with tours of the United States Coast Guard Sector Charleston and Joint Base Charleston.

The day started out on the Southern end of Charleston’s peninsula along the Ashley River, on the corner of Tradd Street and South Battery Boulevard, at the operational headquarters for U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) Sector Charleston.

United States Coast Guard Sector Charleston

From this seemingly austere location, members of the Coast Guard carry out many important functions, primarily the protection of the coasts and waterways, including the Port of Charleston and the over $20 billion in cargo that pass through on a daily basis. They also maintain the directional markers that let ship captains from around the globe understand how to navigate in and out of the port, providing search and rescue along the South Carolina coast and in some occasions, law enforcement as the USCG is the only branch of the military legally allowed to do so.

To carry out this work, USCG Sector Charleston uses three cutters, USCG Anvil, Chinook and Yellowfin, the latter of which can travel furthest from the base and was outfitted with some very impressive deep sea fishing rods. The service members of USCG Sector Charleston are also tasked with preparedness and force readiness for hurricanes, mass rescue events and general maritime security. Charleston-based units often coordinate with their partners in Jacksonville and other parts of the Atlantic region located at Georgetown and Myrtle Beach for training and coordination. With a budget of roughly $12 billion annually, the USCG is one of the most talented, multi-function arms of the United States military.

Joint Base Charleston

Next, our group traveled 12 miles north. Just to the west of the Charleston International Airport, on an eastern bend of the Ashley River, is Joint Base Charleston, one of 12 military installations in the nation consisting of all U.S. Military Branches.

Joint Base Charleston (JBC) celebrated its 10th year in operation last October, commemorating its transition from Charleston Air Force Base, which it had been known as to the community since the early 1950’s.

Today, the merged base serves as one of the Department of Defense’s busiest multi modal cargo hubs, supports over 67 mission partners and is led by Colonel Marc Greene, Colonel Jaron Roux and Colonel Adam Willis, who respectively oversee the 628th Air Base Wing, 437th and 315th Air Lift Wings. This includes over $7 billion in assets and includes the oversight and management of 23,777 acres of property, 22 miles of shoreline, 39 miles of rail and a base population of roughly 70,000 active service persons and civilians.

The most recognizable assets are likely the 40 C-17 Globemaster III aircraft to which members of Leadership Charleston were given an up-close and personal tour. These planes are operated by the 437th Air Lift Wing and are tasked with carrying out global missions around the world. On the day Leadership Charleston visited, they had just returned from Washington, DC, picking up secret service vehicles and the Presidential state car, AKA “the Beast” and delivering them to Atlanta to be onsite for the arrival of the President and Vice President a few days later. These impressive aircraft carriers were designed to land and take off almost anywhere and be resistant to ammunition when traveling to or through hostile locations. Each C-17 requires a crew of only three: a pilot, copilot and loadmaster.

Like many local businesses, the military has also made a long-term commitment to diversity and inclusion. During a candid opening conversation, Colonels Green, Roux and Willis were forthright in acknowledging that the structure and bureaucracy provide a challenge; it takes on average up to 20 years for a service member to reach the rank of colonel; and with their specialized skill set, many of their ranks opt to take lucrative roles in the private sector. However, the base believes in continuous improvement when it comes to diversity and equity, something they are quite proud of when it comes to their reservists, who come from every age group, ethnicity and background.

It was an honor to learn more about the people behind the base, who truly enjoy being members of the Charleston community, with military personnel comprising about 20% of the region’s workforce. Colonels Green, Roux and Willis each generously shared personal narratives about what the military means to them and talked extensively about their particular brands or style of leadership. They also implored Leadership Charleston to be a partner and advocate to those serving at the base, something the Chamber is also taking an active role in doing, particularly on political issues around education and retirement, something service members are legally unable to do themselves publicly.

Written by Leadership Charleston Class of 2021 participant Lauren Brown, Communications Director for the South Carolina Democratic Party

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