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Hilton Field upgrades set to begin

August 9, 2012

By Mr. Andrew R McIntyre (Jackson)

FORT JACKSON, S.C. -- A hallowed ground that has served as the place where the careers of hundreds of thousands of Soldiers have started is scheduled for an upgrade.

Renovations to Hilton Field, where Basic Combat Training graduations take place, are expected to begin this fall. The upgrades are a combined effort by the Fort Jackson Garrison and TRADOC commands to improve the overall appearance of Hilton Field for Soldiers and families visiting Fort Jackson.

Some of the improvements will include a new pedestrian walkway, resurfacing of access roads and improved restroom facilities. Plans to upgrade the field have been discussed for several years.

"This projected really started more than five years ago; the commanding general at the time, Brig. Gen. Jim Schwitters, helped the (Directorate of Public Works) master planning team to begin the project," said Jim Olsen, with the Plans, Analysis and Integration Office. "We have recognized for a long time that Hilton Field really doesn't convey itself as being (part of) the premier training center of the Department of the Defense."

Olsen said there are five projects scheduled. Two will begin this calendar year -- pedestrian walkways and restroom facilities -- and three of the projects are slated to begin next year. Families attending graduation can expect some construction, but no delays.

"Right now, graduations are planned to stay at Hilton Field, worst case scenario we can move them to Darby Field. During inclement weather we do graduations at the Solomon Center. When our summer increase of Soldiers is finished, this plan will go in to effect and our numbers for graduation will go back to its normal attendance, so we are anticipating handling those adjustments with graduation and families during construction," Olsen said.

The renovations to the field are anticipated to save the installation money in the long run. Temporary facilities in place now include portable restrooms.

"We currently spend more than a quarter of a million dollars a year on portable restrooms, so now what we are going to do is, instead of using two inadequate restrooms, we are going to have two new restrooms that are squared away and eliminate the use of portable latrines and, honestly, within three years we can pay off those renovations. We are going to be saving a lot of money," Olsen said.

Families visiting for graduation were given the opportunity to express their concerns about upgrades to the field and post.

"We interviewed more than 700 family members, half in the spring and half in the fall, about Hilton Field and their overall views. They said the facilities were an overall significant issue, especially families who had been to Fort Benning and seen their nice facilities," Olsen said.

Col. Ken Royalty, Fort Jackson chief of staff, said no construction will take place on graduation days.

"This will be an eye sore until we get it all in place. We should have everything completed by the fall of next year," Royalty said. "We hope to have a walkway that will be lined with bricks donated by community members, organizations and retirees to incorporate the history of Fort Jackson and its community."

"I would like to have a Fort Jackson Foundation, and add in a walk of honor to the renovations. We would sell bricks for retired Soldiers and provide a history of Fort Jackson in the walkway and as people are out there they can see the history of Fort Jackson through the donated bricks and pavers that will line the walkway," Royalty said.

Olsen said the ideal contribution for the walkways and parking lots would be to have 300 trees donated to plant in honor of the Soldiers from South Carolina who have died in combat during Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom. The trees would line the parking lot and seating areas for families looking for a place to spend time with their new Soldier after Family Day and Graduation Day ceremonies.

"We have about 4,000 to 5,000 family members who come out to Fort Jackson every week, and Hilton Field is where they will go and that's their very first opportunity to see the Army, so we are trying to make this something that is well organized, professionally, and we are looking for the "wow" factor," Olsen said.

Gerald Henderson, Fort Jackson deputy chief of staff, said he believes this provides a good opportunity to make Fort Jackson the premier training center.

"We want to become the Army's premier training center, and a part of that experience is the graduation experience," Henderson said. "Here is an opportunity to make the lasting impact for families and Soldiers who will visit Fort Jackson that we are growing; we are moving forward."

Olsen said Hilton Field has the potential to be remembered as a special place.

"I hope that families can see that this is a hallowed ground -- this is where people began their military careers," he said.

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