Charleston is a contender for a new headquarters site for the U.S. Africa Command, state and local officials say.
Defense Department officials visited existing military facilities in Charleston last week, a sign that the area is under consideration, said Richard Eckstrom, the state’s comptroller general and co-chairman of a state committee to protect and expand the military’s presence in South Carolina.
The U.S. Africa Command is one of the military’s six regional headquarters and was created in 2007 to work with African nations and organizations to build regional security, stability and crisis response capacity.
It is located on an interim basis in Stuttgart, Germany, near the U.S. European Command.
Eckstrom said other sites in the United States under consideration for the new headquarters are Quantico, Va., and Marietta, Ga., both of which are home to military bases. The Defense Department also could leave the headquarters in Germany or move it to Africa, Eckstrom said.
An official in the Defense Department’s press office who declined to be named said the department is considering relocating Africa Command headquarters but could not confirm any potential locations.
Eckstrom said the command would be a boost to the state’s economy, bringing in about 1,000 jobs. The Web site of Africa Command says the command has a staff of 900 now but will ultimately employ 1,300.
Defense Department officials who visited the area plan to make a presentation to Defense Secretary Robert Gates this week, according to Eckstrom. He takes it as a good sign that officials visited Charleston just before that briefing.
“When a decision is going to be made, or when a briefing is going to be made, I think it’s very helpful for the team that’s going to be doing that briefing to be here kicking the tires, so to speak, just days before they are doing that briefing,” Eckstrom said.
Officials expected Gates to make a decision on the location last month but have not heard anything lately, said Bobby Collins, chairman of the Charleston Metro Chamber of Commerce. The chamber has worked with the S.C. congressional delegation to prepare research in support of the relocation.
“We don’t know anything,” Collins said. “We’re a contestant. You hear rumors. We know we’re in the hunt.”
Members of the delegation wrote a letter to Gates in July urging that he consider Charleston as a permanent location for the headquarters. The letter said Charleston’s existing military facilities and its port could support the command headquarters, eliminating the need to spend tax dollars to re-create that infrastructure.
Eckstrom, too, said the existing military presence is what makes Charleston a good location for the Africa Command, known as AFRICOM.
“The military that performs in Charleston performs at the highest level,” Eckstrom said. “Whether it’s sealift through the Naval Weapons Station, whether it’s airlift through the Air Force base, whether it’s technology development through SPAWAR, the Charleston military community has quite a reputation throughout the entire Department of Defense.”
Africa Command is a reorganization of several commands that had responsibility for African nations. The new command will focus on war prevention rather than war-fighting, according to its Web site.
“Africa is growing in military, strategic and economic importance in global affairs,” the Web site says. “However, many nations on the African continent continue to rely on the international community for assistance with security concerns. From the U.S. perspective, it makes strategic sense to help build the capability for African partners … to take the lead in establishing a secure environment. This security will, in turn, set the groundwork for increased political stability and economic growth.”
The military task force that Eckstrom co-chairs was established by Gov. Mark Sanford during his first term to help protect S.C. bases during the Base Realignment and Closure process, Eckstrom said. Since then, the mission of the task force has been broadened and includes the effort to bring AFRICOM headquarters to Charleston.
Eckstrom, a former Navy captain, said his work on the task force is separate from his role as the state’s chief accountant.