With a $24.1 billion impact on the Palmetto State, the military and defense sectors rely on crucial community support to ensure the health and prosperity of personnel and their families, military leaders say.
“It matters when people come up and shake the hands of uniformed service members at the airport or say thank you for your service,” Air Force Maj. Gen. Sam Barrett said. “It really does. It helps. It matters when the school systems care about those airmen moving in.”
Barrett is the commander of the 18th Air Force, which oversees Joint Base Charleston’s 437th Airlift Wing. The 18th Air Force is based out of Scott Air Force Base in Illinois and is only numbered Air Force unit in Air Mobility Command, which provides airlift and air refueling to the entire military. Joint Base Charleston’s 628th Air Base Wing, which serves as the host unit of the base, also is under Air Mobility Command.
Barrett said the Charleston region’s school systems, businesses and employment opportunities for spouses and families of the base crew members “are critical to the health of our airmen,” and he thanked the Charleston community for being so welcoming.
“I had an opportunity to meet with some of the civic leaders here,” Barrett said. “We had a dinner and got to meet some of them, and they’re so energized and so interested in helping our airmen.”
Barrett actually began his Air Force career in Charleston, arriving at Charleston Air Force Base shortly after Hurricane Hugo.
According to a 2017 report from the S.C. Military Base Task Force, the military has a $10.8 billion impact on Charleston, supporting 68,529 jobs. Joint Base Charleston alone has a $6.6 billion economic impact on the Charleston region, supporting 47,344 jobs.
Across the state, the base accounts for $8.7 billion of economic impact and 50,303 jobs.
“While I understand that Charleston’s a busy, vibrant place and lots of great things are going on, this base has been a huge part of this community for a long time,” Barrett said. “And we’re here, you know, we’re here to continue to contribute to the fabric of the Lowcountry.”
One thing that the Air Force and the Department of Defense are focused on, Barrett said, is allowing for military spouses to receive license reciprocity across municipalities or states to ensure they can easily obtain work.
“Because unlike some other citizens in Charleston,” he said, “these people that are a doctor, for example, or a lawyer, you know, four years from now, the Air Force is going to ask them to go to Little Rock, Ark., or to Seattle, and the state government’s ability to help us with that is really something that the Air Force and the Department of Defense are interested in.”
Barrett said Joint Base Charleston is one of the few bases in the 18th Air Force that is joint base. Until 2010, the base was separated into Naval Weapons Station Charleston and Charleston Air Force Base, but recommendations from the 2005 Base Realignment and Closure study caused the Air Force Base and Naval Weapons Station to merge.
Barrett said, though, that the joint base doesn’t make his mission any more challenging.
“There’s challenges with anything, but there’s also opportunities, too, because you get different mindsets,” he said. “You get the Navy and the Air Force coming together to solve problems and I think it works really good.”
Barrett said 8,000 planes were flown out of Joint Base Charleston last year, moving 46,000 people and 156 tons of cargo. Assignments included hurricane relief, missions overseas, and training exercises with other U.S. military bases and allies.
“The challenge for us is, in mobility business, we’re never just training and then going off and executing our mission because we’re executing our mission all the time,” he said. “The C-17s are always moving cargo, they’re always moving supplies.”
Barrett said that he doesn’t foresee any decrease in the Air Force’s need at Joint Base Charleston.
“I think that the mission of Air Mobility Command and the 18th and the 437th are critical and enduring,” he said, adding, “I don’t see any reduction in the need for what the 437th Airlift Wing and their sister wing the 315th, the reserve wing here, are doing five years from now than what they’re doing now.”
He added that the airmen and their units just have to be executing their mission better as threats develop.
“We are in an era of great power competition … and so the times in the future present unique challenges that we have to be ready for,” he said.
Barrett said the Air Force is focused on the sectors of space and cyber, including developing cyber warriors, which affects the C-17 squadrons in the 18th Air Force.
“Our C-17s need to be resilient and be able to operate in an environment where cyber is just a fact of life now,” he said. “It is a medium that we both need to be able to protect and ensure that we can communicate with our forces.”
This story originally appeared in the March 4, 2019, print edition of the Charleston Regional Business Journal.