Congress’ support for the Army’s Fort Jackson training center and the Savannah River nuclear site is not just crucial for South Carolina but also a matter of national security, Rep. Joe Wilson, R-S.C., told the House Budget Committee on Wednesday.
“I urge you to continue your support for the unique missions at Fort Jackson and the Savannah River Site that keep American families safe,” he told his colleagues.
Wilson, of Springdale, South Carolina, was one of the first lawmakers to testify during the committee’s “Members’ Day” hearing as the budget process for fiscal year 2017 gets underway this week.
He told the committee that Fort Jackson, in his district in Columbia, trains almost 40 percent of the Army’s basic combat training soldiers and more than half of the women who enter the Army each year.
“Fort Jackson’s primary mission is training thousands of disciplined, motivated service members,” Wilson testified.
While asking for support for the base is an annual request for Wilson, who served in the U.S. Army Reserves and S.C. Army National Guard for 31 years and has four sons serving in the military, this time around there may be more cause for concern.
Wilson said Fort Jackson’s impact extended beyond soldiers, since it also employs nearly 3,500 civilians and provides services for over 46,000 retirees and their family members.
Fort Jackson announced last summer that it would have to reduce active-duty personnel by 180. This is still a relatively low impact given the projected 40,000-soldier drawdown by the Army after 15 years of war in Iraq and Afghanistan. The cuts amounted to 6 percent, while Fort Benning, by Columbus, Georgia, is slated to lose 29 percent of active-duty personnel by fiscal year 2017.
Wilson also asked for the new budget to take into account the Savannah River Site’s mixed oxide facility, known as MOX, near Aiken, South Carolina. He told the committee to consider that it “plays a vital role in our national security and nuclear non-proliferation.”
The facility, which is billions over budget and years behind schedule, is only 70 percent completed. The project is intended to turn weapons-grade plutonium into fuel for nuclear reactors. Last week Gov. Nikki Haley threatened to sue the Department of Energy for the agency’s failure to meet a Jan. 1 deadline, asking the state’s attorney general (Wilson’s son, Alan Wilson) to take legal steps and collect a $1 million daily fine.
“This facility is our only viable method at this time of disposing of weapons-grade plutonium and our country’s only means to honor the (agreement) we have with the Russian Federation,” Joe Wilson said. He led a congressional visit to the facility last month.
The Savannah River Site was highlighted in a McClatchy report in December on nuclear workers who had suffered cancers and other ailments. A U.S. Department of Labor database analyzed by McClatchy shows 1,400 Savannah River Site workers died after applying for benefits from the federal government for their health problems. Fewer than 600 were approved.
These individuals are dedicated to their country and putting service before self. Rep. Joe Wilson, to House Budget Committee
The MOX project Wilson discussed Wednesday employs 2,000 workers and is part of a nonproliferation agreement with Russia that calls for the two countries to dispose of 34 metric tons of weapons-grade plutonium.
“I respect the difficult choices this committee must make in the coming days and weeks. As you begin the fiscal year 2017 budgetary process, I ask that you consider the men and women involved in the critical national security missions being carried out at Fort Jackson, as well as the Savannah River Site,” he said.
“These individuals are dedicated to their country and putting service before self,” he said.
House Budget Committee Chairman Tom Price, R-Ga., has said he wants to stick with an accelerated schedule and is hoping to mark up the House budget resolution by the end of February, which would allow the House to consider the resolution on the floor in early March.