Richland County officials and conservationists gathered with military leaders at Fort Jackson to dedicate trees planted in honor of South Carolina soldiers killed in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Brig. Gen. Bradley A. Becker, commander of the fort, spoke at the private ceremony on South Carolina's Arbor Day at Hilton Field – the site chosen to plant 26 little gem magnolias and two live oaks. Fort Jackson’s Hilton Field is considered hallowed ground among many military personnel. It is the location of Basic Combat Training graduations – and the place where hundreds of thousands of soldiers from across the country converge to start their military careers.
Richland County's Appearance Commission awarded a grant to Columbia Green, which headed the tree planting project. The project is part of a 10-year community effort to update the fort for its 100th anniversary in 2017 and to show community support for the troops.
The fort worked with tree experts to select the right trees and ensure they were planted in areas in which they will thrive. Those experts say planting the trees at Hilton Field will improve water quality, reduce erosion and provide shade for soldiers and their families during graduation events.
“This is a very pro-military community,” said James D. Olsen, with the fort’s Plans, Analysis and Integration Office. “This was an effort to allow the community to help and honor the soldiers.”
Each magnolia tree represents a soldier killed in action in Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom. In addition to the magnolia trees, the two live oaks planted in a corner of Hilton Field will be dedicated to all soldiers killed in Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom, regardless of whether they died in combat. The live oaks mark the first step of a planned “Walk of Honor.”
This effort was made possible by the generous contributions of time, talents and monies from the Richland County Conservation Department, Richland County Appearance Commission, Columbia Green, Sox & Freeman, Memorial Design and Woodley's. This most recent tree planting effort is the fifth joint project at Fort Jackson for Richland County and Columbia Green.